Leeds United take on Newcastle United at Elland Road on Wednesday evening with the pressure mounting on Marcelo Bielsa’s side. Just one win in six and four points from their last possible 18 has seen Leeds stay in 14th place, with the Hammers’ 2-1 win revealing a huge weakness in the Argentine manager’s side.
The defeat to Chelsea certainly alerted Leeds fans to their side’s inability to defend set-pieces. But that was completely worsened against West Ham, with an equal game that Leeds were winning flipped on its head due to the fragility from set plays. Tomas Soucek and Angelo Ogbonna both netted for David Moyes’ side, as they earned a narrow 2-1 win.
Leeds are without Robin Koch and Diego Llorente, arguably two of the club’s best defenders in the air. Luke Ayling replaced Koch at centre-back, with Rodrigo coming in – meaning Leeds lost a lot of aerial presence. The Whites need a player that is commanding in the air, and it is one change Bielsa must make to his side when Newcastle come to town.
Standing at a lofty 6ft 3in, Pascal Struijk is the man to answer’s prayers. The Dutchman has impressed when used this season, though was subbed off against Aston Villa in the first half. When he has been used, what is evident is that the ex-Ajax man is best in the middle of the defence – not in midfield.
So, Struijk needs to start and in his favoured position of centre-back against Newcastle. More of a ball-playing defender than Liam Cooper, he should line-up on the right side of the duo – allowing Cooper to play with his favoured left foot. It gives Leeds presence, and allows Stuart Dallas to drop into left-back – if Struijk were to replace Gjanni Alioski. Ayling can play in his normal and more natural right-back role.
It would not solve the issue Leeds have, but it certainly gives them a much better chance of dealing with it. One change then for our predicted XI – in comes Struijk for Alioski, with Dallas playing at left-back and Ayling at right-back.
Illan Meslier; Luke Ayling, Pascal Struijk, Liam Cooper, Stuart Dallas; Kalvin Phillips; Raphinha, Mateusz Klich, Rodrigo, Jack Harrison; Patrick Bamford (4-1-4-1).