Marcelo Bielsa has suggested that both Luke Ayling and Pascal Struijk have shone at centre-back for Leeds United this season when answering a question about whether the number of injuries this year has been unusual – in comments reported by Leeds Live.
Leeds have certainly had to deal with their fair share of injuries this term – particularly in defence.
The Whites signed Robin Koch and Diego Llorente last summer. However, the pair are yet to be on the pitch at the same time. And they have only featured in the same game once.
Meanwhile, captain Liam Cooper had a couple of issues at the start of the campaign. In fact, he missed the opening day trip to Liverpool.
That saw Koch make his Leeds debut alongside Struijk. Remarkably, the 21-year-old was actually making his first league start at centre-back for the Whites at Anfield.
Struijk has recently admitted that he has featured a lot more often than he expected (via Sky Sports). And he has also had to play alongside Ayling on a few occasions.
Bielsa was asked about the amount of injuries across the division this season in his Thursday press conference. And hidden amongst his response was some praise for Ayling and Struijk and their contributions at centre-back.
“Berardi and Forshaw had long-term injuries and we suffered injuries to players in the same positions, or similar positions,” he said, as reported by Leeds Live. “For example, the absence of Pablo and Rodrigo at the same time or Koch and Llorente. This increases the difficulty. It wasn’t a problem without solution. In the centre-backs, Ayling and Pascal occupied these positions and shone.”
Struijk has arguably been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season at Elland Road. He had only made a handful of senior appearances before promotion.
Having said that, it seems easy to overlook how easily Ayling has settled at the highest level. It appears that both men could be key men at Leeds for years to come – no matter which role they feature in.