Spotlight on Pascal Struijk and the Leeds United defence with Marcelo Bielsa facing decision
PASCAL Struijk said he was relishing the prospect of facing Harry Kane and Son Heung-min and produced a solid display despite Leeds United's 3-0 reverse at Saturday's Premier League hosts Tottenham Hotspur.
Ahead of what was still only his 14th outing in first team professional football, Struijk admitted that Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa was improving every area of his game with his passing now at new levels.
That trait was again in evidence against Tottenham as Struijk finished the contest with a passing success rate of 88 per cent with 79 of 90 attempted passes accurate.
The defender also said he was confident of winning aerial duels even against the division's best and Struijk came out on top of three of his four aerial duels - the most in the Whites side - no mean feat when coming up against Kane.
Former Ajax youngster Struijk was also successful with three out of his five attempted tackles as well as making three interceptions and one clearance.
From a Leeds perspective, only England international Kalvin Phillips produced more tackles with six (from just seven attempts) while only Raphinha had the same number of interceptions.
On what was just a seventh Premier League start, Struijk also had more possession of the ball than any other Whites player with 100 touches, narrowly edging out centre-back partner Luke Ayling.
In terms of Tottenham's three goals, there was nothing Struijk could have done about the 29th-minute opener with Illan Meslier's poor pass played straight to Harry Winks who then played in Steven Bergwijn.
Bergwijn was then caught by Gjanni Alioski and while the debate will rumble on over whether or not the contact made was in the box, Spurs were awarded a spot kick that Kane was never likely to miss.
Fourteen minutes later, Struijk failed with his attempt to produce a sliding tackle on Kane some 30 yards out and Kane then produced a sublime cross that was met by Son who burst in between Ayling and Stuart Dallas to double Tottenham's lead.
Five minutes after the break, Toby Alderweireld then got the better of his marker Phillips and also Patrick Bamford to head home Son's corner for what was the tenth goal conceded by Leeds from a set piece so far this season, excluding penalties - the worst record in the division.
Struijk was marking Eric Dier with Ayling on Kane and Leeds might have conceded more than three but for some strong goalkeeping from Meslier in the second half.
But United also had their chances and essentially there was no disgrace in the display against a side with the attacking prowess of Spurs, especially given the Whites absentees.
Leeds are still missing their three first choice centre backs with Liam Cooper, Robin Koch and Diego Llorente all out injured which has essentially brought Struijk back into the first team.
With Phillips having picked up a fifth booking of the season against Spurs, it might well be that Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa opts to play the versatile Struijk in the holding midfield role for his next Premier League outing in the hosting of Brighton a week on Saturday for which Phillips will be suspended.
With Adam Forshaw still injured, Mateusz Klich and Jamie Shackleton are other options though much could depend on which centre-backs are available and principally whether Cooper and/or Llorente are back.
In any case, Sunday's FA Cup clash at Crawley Town is next.
In the meantime, 21-year-old Struijk is still very much learning his trade and despite the defeat his performance against Spurs was another step in the right direction.
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Thank you Laura Collins