New signing offers Leeds United head coach fresh tactical ideas for upcoming private conversation

Leeds United's newest addition Rasmus Kristensen is a versatile, attack-minded defender

By Joe Donnohue
Tuesday, 14th June 2022, 10:46 am

Leeds are not known for their strength in depth, owing to Marcelo Bielsa's time at the club and a preference for a thin squad.

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However, one position is particularly well-staffed and poses head coach Jesse Marsch with a dilemma of sorts this summer.

DANE: Rasmus Kristensen representing his country in the UEFA Nations League (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

Leeds' centre-back pool is strong, experienced and numbers six players - if youngsters Charlie Cresswell and Leo Hjelde are to be considered.

Three out of Liam Cooper, Pascal Struijk, Diego Llorente and Robin Koch are fully-fledged internationals whilst the two aforementioned teenagers are both capped at Under-21 level for their respective nations.

This season, reserve football will not be enough to appease the younger duo, while Koch and Struijk are unlikely to settle for another campaign being shifted around the back four and defensive midfield in a variety of deputy roles.

Cresswell has already stated he intends to discuss his options privately with the head coach and director of football Victor Orta, in regards to his game-time over the next 12 months.

HEATMAP: Rasmus Kristensen's involvement down the right flank during Denmark's 2-1 Nations League win over Austria predominantly took place in the attacking half of the pitch (Image: SofaScore)

Latest addition Rasmus Kristensen could potentially hand Marsch a solution to this issue, given his versatility and the strengths he possesses.

The Danish full-back has recently broken onto the international scene and in his two most recent starts for his country, operated as a right wing-back.

Having arrived from FC Red Bull Salzburg where Kristensen often featured as an attacking full-back in advanced areas of the pitch, scoring ten goals in all competitions last season, it is clear where the 24-year-old's strengths lie.

On the other side of defence, Junior Firpo appears set for another season as first-choice despite struggling to make his mark during 2021/22.

ACTION: Kristensen's heatmap in the reverse Nations League fixture against Austria saw him even more heavily involved in the opposition half, after starting the game at right wing-back (Image: SofaScore)

The Spanish defender was renowned as an effective, attacking wing-back during his time at Real Betis, often receiving the ball in the opposition's half rather than his own.

At Barcelona, to whom Leeds paid in the region of £13 million last summer, the collective strength of Los Cules meant Firpo's primary task was attack rather than defence on the left flank.

A tweak to Marsch's preferred 4-2-2-2 formation next season, in order to better accommodate his players' strengths, could yield wholesale improvement on Leeds' 17th place finish last term.

Replacing a midfielder with an additional centre-back - thus solving the issue of game-time for the likes of Struijk, Koch and Cresswell - while pushing Kristensen and Firpo onto the same line as the defensive midfield pairing in a 3-4-1-2 formation, may accentuate the side's individual influence over certain areas of the field.

Typically, young central defenders fare better in a three-man defence, considering they are straddled by more experienced teammates capable of steering them through tricky patches with constant communication.

Meanwhile, Kristensen was asked upon signing for the club whether he preferred playing in a back four or back five.

"I think I can definitely do both. Like what you said at Salzburg, I only played with four [at the back] but with the national team and also when I've been in Denmark before Ajax I was playing in a five-back, so I feel pretty comfortable with those systems.

"I would say my biggest contribution to the game is that I'm a two-way player.

"I enjoy going forward using my power, my energy, up and down the flank is what I'm best at," the Dane said.