After surviving relegation, Leeds is looking to improve its prospects for the upcoming season by making crucial moves in the summer transfer window. Manager Jesse Marsch has signed American international Brenden Aaronson from Red Bull Salzburg in a reported 30m deal, but that’s not the only player nicked from the Austrian club.
Last week, Danish international right-back Rasmus Kristensen penned a five year contract to play at Elland Road. The 24-year-old, who was also wanted by Borussia Dortmund and Brentford, has joined for a reported fee of £10 million. On his move to Leeds, Kristensen said,
“When I heard about the interest I looked at the project and what was going on and I was never in doubt, I was 100 per cent convinced. It’s a huge historical club, which is playing in the best league in the world, and for me, it fits everything that I love about a football club. I’m blown away by the stadium. I’ve been told what the atmosphere is like, and I can imagine... but I’ve been told it’s better than I can ever imagine, so I can’t wait to experience it on my own.”
Rasmus Kristensen, also known as NK or Nissen, was born on 11 July 1997 in Brande, Denmark. The right-back began learning football at the age of six. He signed his official youth contract with FC Midtjylland, where made his professional debut against FC Nordsjaelland on 7th March 2016.
Seven days later, Kristensen made his first start against Hobro IK and marked his presence with his first professional goal in a 3-0 victory. Making his breakthrough with FC Midtjylland, the right-back was called up by Dutch giant Ajax in January 2018.
Prior to his move to the Dutch Eredivisie, Kristensen had 17 league appearances for Midtjylland in the 2017-18 campaign, in which they would go on to become Danish champions. In his first full season at the Johan Cruyff Arena, Kristensen scored in the KNVB Cup Final against Willem II, helping Ajax win 4-0 and securing the league and cup double.
Following the triumph, he transfered to Red Bull Salzburg on 23rd July 2019, joining current Leeds United boss Jesse Marsch.
“I had a brilliant relationship with Jesse in Salzburg. I feel like I fit right into the philosophy and system that he wants to play and hopefully I can show that on the pitch,” said Kristensen on playing under Jesse Marsch again.
His double success continued at the Red Bull Arena, with the fullback playing a key role in helping his club win the Austrian league and cup in each of the last three campaigns.
Leeds boss Marsch said:
“Rasmus is a player who developed a lot over the last three years. He established himself at Red Bull Salzburg as one of their best players, a very good Champions League full-back, and a Danish international. I am totally convinced that he will continue to grow into a great Premier League full-back as well.”
Due to his remarkable progress and growth, he won his first international cap for Denmark, helping his country defeat the Faroe Islands 1-0. He has since made five appearances for his country, with his most recent coming last Sunday, when he provided an assist in the 2-1 away victory against Austria.
Kristensen came off the bench in the 60th minute for Denmark’s surprise 2-1 win over world champions France in their Nations League campaign. The most recent action was when the right-back played the full 90 minutes and provided an assist in Denmark’s 2-1 win in Austria on June 13 to help his country top their Nations League group.
How Will Kristensen Fit in at Leeds?
Kristensen offers quality and a much-needed backbone, two things Leeds was short of in its second Premier League term since promotion. Leeds has just endured a horrible season defensively, conceding 79 goals in the 38 league games (only relegated side Norwich allowed more) and suffering a handful of tough defeats.
At Salzburg, the fullback played an important role in conceding only 19 goals in 32 appearances, keeping 16 clean sheets and losing only twice on the way to winning their latest Austrian title. There is a vast difference between England and Austria, but Kristensen presents experience and minutes.
In the Champions League, the 24-year-old defender averaged 4.6 successful tackles per game, more than any other player in the tournament. Based on this, it is not surprising that Kristensen also scored high in the number of duels won per 90 minutes played (9.13), which was 7th in the UCL last season.
From his time at the Austrian champions and understanding Jesse Marsch’s style of football, Kristensen will be used to playing in Leeds’ high-intensity pressing style. Standing at 1.87m (6ft 2in), he is tall for a fullback, even quick and is very good at winning defensive headers. This will improve Leeds who often suffered when the ball was played over the top of the defensive line.
Moreover, Leeds is getting quality depth in the right-back department. The Peacocks’ vice-captain Luke Ayling is the current preferred player in that position, but he missed 11 important games through injury last season. Versatile winger Stuart Dallas had to be moved into the right-back position in that absence, but he was unable to control the game.
Focusing on Ayling, who has been Leeds’ preferred right-back, is not perfect defensively, and Leeds was hurt plenty of times down the flanks last season. He can disrupt attacks against him, an all-action attitude that suited long stretches of the Bielsa era. However, Kristensen’s style is to get tight to his opponent but not over-commit or to dive into tackle after tackle, preferring to read the game and look for interceptions. What makes him a quality defender is his positional sense and his ball retention ability.
In fact, there have been times when he does commit to a tackle, more often than not he has the strength and the judgment to come out on top. The 24-year-old is physically strong in the air both in open play and from dead balls, a quality Leeds has lacked, especially when facing set pieces. Moreover, he has featured in a back four with Salzburg and a back five with Denmark, options that open avenues for the Leeds manager. Similarly, Kristensen is likely to stay fit for the longest part of the campaign as he has been largely injury-free in three years with Salzburg. However, he did miss 16 games in 2020 because of a severe hamstring injury.
On attack, Kristensen may not have many assists, but his impact moving forward does open options for his teammates. He ended 2021-22 with four domestic assists in 29 appearances and recorded another against Wolfsburg in the Champions League. However, he often likes to put himself where he can make a pass from a deep midfield area to a striker who can then get in behind and send cut-backs into the opponents’ box.
Kristensen is relatively quick, and has good strength to challenge opponents, and is able to use pace to force openings in front of him. Overlapping and positional sense to find an opportunity to cross is instilled in him, but his physical strength to open up defenses is what makes him a good asset for Leeds.
Plus, his attempts to find a goal for himself is there despite not having the best numbers putting the ball in the net. Over the course of Salzburg’s UCL campaign, Kristensen made 16 efforts on goal, more than any other fullback who completed 500 minutes or more — including Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The opportunities may have not been great, or he may need to add finishing to his game, but these numbers are produced by his habit of taking up good positions in the final third. Plus, some were attempts of headers from set-pieces, thanks to his 6ft 2in height.
Also, he had an average of one attempt per seven league games. In his last two league seasons, he played 60 games and scored 10 goals plus 9 assists.
The Danish international is quick and athletic, so he will likely adapt quickly to the physical demands of the Premier League. Plus, he understands his current manager’s philosophy, and his position, and balanced approach between attacking flair and defensive commitment.
£10 million will buy Leeds a 25-year-old who is about to reach his peak of form with Champions League and international experience, qualities noticed by notable teams such as Dortmund. Kristensen is truly a bargain.
One of the most important questions is whether Kristensen will be a GW-1 starter or take a little bit longer to claim that role. Ideally, with his experience and the fact he’s been a key player for Salzburg, one expect him to be brought in as a starter.
The competition with Luke Ayling shouldn’t be much of an issue, simply because Leeds’ head coach Jesse Marsch. The manager understands the player due to his past work with him, says the right-back’s signature is integral to his plans.
Leeds has been truly terrible at the back in recent times, so Kristensen will bring a new level of security, which should make him a regular starter.
In FPL, I expect Kristensen to be priced under £5m, maybe even £4.0m. If Leeds shows signs of improvement in the back, and if there is some sort of a solid structure there, there is no harm in having a cheap fullback that may very well play most games and provide attacking and defensive returns here and there. However, this depends on how Marsch prepares his back line. Time shall tell, but the player’s quality is there.
What do you think about Kristensen? Is he already in your fantasy plans, or will you wait to see how Leeds United’s results unfold next season? Join us and share your thoughts in the comments below.