Whelan claims Bielsa has big plans for never-before-seen Leeds colossus after major development

Noel Whelan has claimed Leeds United rising star Pascal Struijk is set to break into the first team this season as injuries and suspensions begin to bite.

Speaking exclusively to Football Insider, the ex-Leeds forward and lifelong fan explained that the Dutch centre-back, 20, is “highly thought of” by Marcelo Bielsa and his coaching staff.

Struijk has yet to make his senior United bow but he has made the bench on four occasions, including once in the new campaign, the 3-0 demolition of Stoke City.

Whelan claims the young centre-back is set to be named in the matchday 18 soon after it emerged that Liam Cooper will be sidelined for up to six weeks with a groin injury.

Leeds won their appeal this week to overturn Gaetano Berardi’s red card against Millwall last Saturday but the team’s options are being squeezed.

“Struijk is highly thought of by Bielsa and his staff,” Whelan told Football Insider. “He is one option for the bench. Marcelo Bielsa tends to go for the more experienced players rather than the young ones in defence.

Subscribe to Football Insider TV now

“I would expect to see Luke Ayling move across to centre-back if Ben White or Berard were unavailable. But, then you’re looking at Struijk.

“With the inevitable injuries and suspensions over the winter months, I would expect to see Struijk getting a go at some point. It seems Bielsa has big plans for him.”

Struijk, who was signed from Ajax in January 2018, is regarded by Bielsa as a back-up to senior centre-backs Cooper, Ben White and Gaetano Berardi.

The 6ft 3in defender is a regular for the Leeds under-23s side and was handed among a glut of young players at the club handed new deals last month.

Bielsa has handed first-team debuts to nine players from Leeds’ academy since taking over last season.

In other Leeds United news, a £120K-a-week Premier League star is willing to take pay cut to move to Elland Road.