FocusOnLeeds Under 23’s Player Of The Year: Pascal Struijk

The big debate over the last few weeks on twitter has been who should be Leeds United’s POTY, with 90% of the first team in the running for the award due to their on field success so far. Things are slightly different when it comes to deciding who should win that award for the under 23 side due to the nature of the football. The squad is made up of under 18’s, under 23’s and first team players throughout the season depending on the first team’s and the under 23’s game schedules. When it comes to picking the starting 11 and squad, Bielsa has a large say in that process. This season has seen last season’s stand out performers like Robbie Gotts and Alfie McCalmont make their first team debuts and has also seen under 18 stars like Charlie Cresswell, Nohan Kenneh and Stuart McKinstry all play a large amount of games for the 23’s. All three have impressed along with new signings like Liam McCarron but for me one player has stood out. That player being, drum roll please…. Pascal Struijk. The Dutch defender who joined Leeds in 2018 from Ajax has been a stand out performer since he joined the club and was rewarded with his first debut this season. For a player that is only 20 years old, he is physically well developed which allows him to win the majority of his defensive duels. He also stands at 6 ft 2 which also helps him when defending balls into the box and is a threat from attacking set pieces, helping himself to three goals this season in the PDL North. Predominantly left footed, he often plays as the left sided centre back but is comfortable making challenges with his right foot as well as passing on his weaker foot. Due to Pascal having a good turn of pace, we have seen him play as a left back this season for the under 23’s where he picked up his only assist, crossing from the left where Ryan Edmondson tapped home at the back post.

Left footed finish against Millwall on the opening game of the PDL North season

He reads the game well and is comfortable defending in wide areas, using his combination of strength and pace to either make a tackle or force the opposition to play away from goal. At times Pascal can be overly eager in the tackle, sometimes getting beaten or giving away dangerous fouls but this is to be expected with young players. Having been schooled at Ajax, he has a good level of technical ability allowing him to play out from the back and look to play forward passes, as seen below. He does have the ability to dribble the ball out of defence but it’s not something he does often, focusing more on his defensive responsibilities. He does tend to play passes into the midfield area rather than looking long, keeping his play simple. This being said, he is more than capable of playing long and accurate passes as seen below. 

Struijk has been ever present for Carlos Corberan’s side this season playing in 16 of the 20 league games so far, missing four due to injury. In the 16 games he’s played in, Leeds have kept 8 clean sheets and failed to keep one in any of the four games that he missed. Not only does Pascal bring his defensive attributes to the team but he also brings leadership. Despite many first team players dropping down, Struijk often holds the arm band and leads by example. Leeds’ under 23’s have won 9 of the 16 games that he has played in, drawn 6 and lost just one. In the four games that he missed, they won two and lost two, highlighting his importance to the team. 

With the nature of under 23 football, Struijk often comes up against a mix of both young and experienced first team players dropping down for game time, whether that be due to injury or lack of first team minutes. At the start of the season he came up against Famara Diédhiou, who currently has 10 goals for Bristol City in the championship this season. He is a tall, physical striker who is very good in the air but Struijk dealt with him extremely well, winning his fair share of aerial and ground duels. These sort of performances on a consistent basis and his importance to the team both on field and in the dressing room are the reasons why he was my choice for POTY. Let me know whether you agree with me and if not, who would be your choice?

Written by Thomas Wilson. 

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