Leeds United finished last weekend’s game against Liverpool with a three-goal, one-man deficit.
Pascal Struijk had been sent from the field by referee Craig Pawson, deemed to have endangered Reds midfielder Harvey Elliott with a lunging tackle from behind.
Regardless of the fact Struijk won possession with his challenge, Pawson and his team of officials deemed his tackle dangerous enough to warrant a straight red card, much to the dismay of Struijk’s teammates and the 36,000 inside Elland Road.
The Dutch defender will now serve a three-match ban, meaning he is set to miss Leeds’ game with Newcastle this evening, Fulham in the League Cup next Tuesday and West Ham United in eight days time.
It has plunged Leeds into something of a miniature defensive crisis, likely relying on Luke Ayling at centre-back tonight, due to Robin Koch and Diego Llorente’s absence through injury.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference yesterday, Marcelo Bielsa laid out clearly his stance on Struijk’s tackle and the subsequent response by officials and the Football Association’s Disciplinary Panel.
“Pascal [Struijk] acted with exuberance that belongs to the game and the consequences of what happened linked more to it being a casual event [accident] rather than his intentions,” Bielsa said.
Bielsa’s reference to Struijk’s tackle being a ‘casual event’ infers what many saw the incident to be: accidental.
The Argentine stressed on numerous occasions that the outcome – a serious injury to Harvey Elliott which required surgery – was unintentional on Struijk’s part.
Leeds and Liverpool fans alike have agreed that Struijk’s endeavour to retrieve the ball resulted in an unfortunate accident, in the form of Elliott’s ankle dislocation, as opposed to a malicious attempt to nullify the Liverpool man.
“It would be very useful for all of us that it’s explained how to avoid the consequences…because clearly they [were] punished.
“The excessive use of the strength, the imprudence in the decision taken by Pascal shouldn’t be considered [by the referee] to analyse this action,” Bielsa added, suggesting the severity of Elliott’s injury should not have been taken into account when Pawson was determining Struijk’s punishment.
Leeds appealed the decision to remove Struijk from the field, however their attempt to make him available for tonight’s game was rejected by a three-person panel.
A majority decision was reached by the panel which published it’s reasons on Thursday evening: “The majority view was that Struijk had endangered the safety of Elliott by lunging in to the challenge in the manner that he did, from behind Elliott.”
The FA also stated: “[Pascal Struijk] was not fully in control of his airborne attempt to take the ball away,” which supported Pawson’s conclusion to show the red card.
Moving forward, Bielsa inference was that he does not want Struijk to quash his tackling exuberance.
“You saw the commitment of the player, very well-prized, the recovery of Pascal in that ball, despite the fact we were losing 2-0 was very well-prized by the public,” Bielsa added.
“The public praises the commitment and like it shouldn’t be in any other way, they punish those who are timid. So it’s important for the public to understand or know, when the rules limit the players making an extreme effort to recover the ball.
“If you see, Pascal made an extreme effort to prevent Salah from scoring a goal prior to the sending off of course,” he said, making reference to an earlier, goal-saving tackle by the Dutchman.
Leeds will be without Struijk for the next week or so, in which they play three games in eight days.
Given Llorente and Koch’s joint absence, Struijk may well slot straight back into the starting XI on his return from suspension.