Leeds United defender Pascal Struijk relishing prospect of facing Tottenham Hotspur duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min

PASCAL Struijk is intent on “enjoying the moment” in today’s clash against England star Harry Kane and backing himself to win aerial duels against the country’s big guns.

Saturday, 2nd January 2021, 5:45 am

Former Ajax youngster Struijk only made his full Whites debut last July in the Championship victory at Derby County.

Six months on, the defender is still learning his trade after just 13 appearances for the Whites and his only 13 outings in professional first-team football.

Just a sixth Whites outing and only a third start came in this season’s Premier League opener at Liverpool and Struijk has also played the full duration of United’s last two games.

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FIGHTING TALK: From Leeds United defender Pascal Struijk, pictured defying striker Karlan Grant in Tuesday's 5-0 win at West Brom. Photo by TIM KEETON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

Leeds are currently without their three first choice centre-backs in Liam Cooper, Robin Koch and Diego Llorente, all of whom are injured.

It all means that Struijk looks set for what will be a sixth start of the Premier League season in today’s clash at a Tottenham Hotspur side featuring two of the most lethal strikers in the division in Kane and Son Heung-min.

Whilst always confident in his long-term Whites future, 21-year-old Struijk admits he could not really have contemplated coming into combat with England captain Kane so soon in his career.

The battle, though, is one that the United centre-back is relishing as part of his rapid progress and development within Bielsa’s side.

“Was it in my mind knowing that it was going to happen? Not really,” Struijk told BBC Radio Leeds on the prospect of facing Kane.

“So I will make sure I enjoy the moment and try and get the win.

"Tottenham are the same like Liverpool, such a good opponent to play and they have got individual quality and then if you look at the numbers, Son and Kane are probably their biggest strengths right now in the team.”

Pressed in particular on his recent success in aerial battles, Struijk said: “I think I have got the height and the strength to win those aerial duels.

“It’s always a good fight, especially against the stronger strikers and the bigger ones.

"All I do is fight and make sure I win and if not make sure I recover.”

Struijk’s last two outings have very much been a case of mission accomplished with the defender helping the Whites to back-to-back clean sheets in the 1-0 win at home to Burnley which was followed by Tuesday night’s 5-0 romp at West Brom.

“I think I have been solid,” said Struijk, assessing his performances in those two displays.

“We have kept two clean sheets. I don’t want to over exaggerate how good I was but I think it was good and the score will say that.”

All told, Struijk has actually played his part in five clean sheets for the Whites with the defender also starting October’s 3-0 win at Aston Villa in which he was taken off after 21 minutes following an early yellow card.

Struijk’s Whites debut against Hull last season also ended in a clean sheet via a 2-0 victory in which the defender was brought on with one minute left.

The defender was also introduced in the 61st minute of the 1-0 triumph at home to Barnsley back in July and then played the full 90 minutes of the 4-0 cruise at home to Charlton Athletic the same month.

And Struijk has also shown he is able to excel in more than one position with the former Netherlands under-17s international having also been deployed by Bielsa in the holding midfield role.

Struijk, who says he has always been a centre-back, had no prior experience of playing in the position but was more than happy to answer Bielsa’s call.

“When he asked me to do it I made sure I was ready and just learned what he was teaching me,” Struijk explained.

Assessing his improvement as a defender, Struijk reasoned: “He has helped my positional game as well as speaking up. I need to do that more.

“And also with the English guys they speak loads more than I do.

"My passing ability has been next level to where I was before and basically just my all round game.

"He just improves me in almost every aspect of the game.”

Having also signed a new three-and-a-half year deal in November, it’s little surprise that Struijk is playing with a smile on his face,.

That, though, says Struijk, comes naturally when featuring for Bielsa’s Whites.

“I think it’s just the way that we play that we create the happiness,” he said.

“We create so many chances, we play good football and it’s just nice to play so that obviously gets the smile on my face and I think on loads of others.”

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Thank you Laura Collins