Liam Cooper is facing an uncertain future at Leeds United due to Pascal Struijk’s emergence this season, according to Noel Whelan.
The former Leeds striker, speaking exclusively to Football Insider, insisted the 21-year-old had managed to outshine the club captain at the heart of the defence this season.
Struijk has managed to make 22 Premier League appearances this season, primarily due to injury and suspension to his teammates.
He was replaced by the returning Cooper for the 2-1 win over Sheffield United in early April.
However, the Scotland international’s red card against Liverpool, and subsequent three-match suspension, has seen Struijk return to the starting XI.
Whelan insisted the youngster deserved to keep his place in the line up even when Cooper is eligible to play again.
He even suggested the captain could lose his starting role entirely next season.
Asked if Struijk had a chance of keeping his place in the XI, Whelan told Football Insider assistant editor Russell Edge: “Oh absolutely. I mean, in my opinion, he should have kept the spot beforehand when Liam Cooper came back in from injury.
“You look at the two centre-halves, I think they’re the partnership to start next season. I really do. I think Struijk has come on leaps and bounds. He’s getting better and better and is now showing that confidence.
“I think that’s because he’s playing next to Llorente. The two of them have got that good working relationship and understanding between one another and that nice balance of a right foot and a left foot.
“We’re now seeing Struijk with that range of passing, which Liam Cooper can do as well. He’s getting more confident in making those choices of passes which might be 30/40-yard passes to start off an attack.
“That’s one benefit that Liam Cooper brought to the side, that ability with that left foot, a cross-field ball to start off an attack.
“I think it’d be very difficult to budge Struijk and Llorente as a partnership out the way right now.”