Leeds United were a thrilling addition to last season’s Premier League under the intense and charismatic leadership of Marcelo Bielsa.
They were as good to watch as anyone and this is a team and club that is back in the top flight after 16 years. A free flowing football, big scoring games, a “pop corn football” and everyone second team for neutral fans.
This season, I’m expecting Leeds will be as exciting to watch as ever and a threat to any team they play. Here’s my talking points and predictions.
Pre season (notable first team)
Blackburn 1-1 Leeds
Leeds 2-3 Real Betis
Ajax 4-0 Leeds
Villareal 2-2 Leeds
Leeds famously have struggled in pre-season matches, whilst facing top-class European opposition was always likely to be a difficult test.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side finished off their pre-season preparations against Villarreal, playing out 2-2 draw with the Europa League champions. Three days before, Leeds were well beaten 4-0 against Dutch Eredivisie champions Ajax.
Pre-season results suggest Leeds are still getting up to speed, but Bielsa insists now is not the time for snap judgements. “The official games are what matter,” he says, “All the rest is just preparation.”
Players in and out
Given transfer business “hasn’t exactly been inspiring”, Leeds have kept hold of their best players, including Jack Harrison, who has joined permanently from Manchester City.
Junior Firpo came from Barcelona for departed Gjani Alioski, and Norwegian goalie Kristoffer Klaesson, the 20-year-old signed from Valerenga as a backup for Meslier.
Bielsa content if Leeds see no more incomings. “I am satisfied with the group I am working with. I could not tell you (there won’t be new faces) because it’s a hypothetical situation, but what I can tell you is the group I have, I am happy with.”
Gjani Alioski, Pablo Hernandez, Gaetano Berardi and Kiko Casila are important departing first team form last term, while Leif Davis and several young players going out on loan.
Some supporters have expressed concern at the club’s modest spending this summer but Bielsa has always valued continuity and chemistry highly.
Bielsa also said he’s very happy with his squad and “astonished” by the investment Leeds have made in infrastructure and recruitment.
There are also high hopes for youngsters Cody Drameh, Charlie Cresswell, Summerville, Joe Gelhardt and Sam Greenwood too, as well as Lewis Bate who came from Chelsea this summer.
Leeds spent around £95 million, but injuries to key signings made last summer meant the benefits of the business were not fully been reaped.
Two international defenders arrived, in Robin Koch and Diego Llorente, but it was unheralded 21-year-old Pascal Struijk who shone.
Rodrigo, the club’s record signing, was only just hitting form at the season’s end due to injury. We’ve yet to see how much the squad was improved by last summer’s business.
Bielsa’s new contract
Marcelo Bielsa has signed a one-year contract, just as he has done in each of his previous three summers in Leeds. The 66-year-old becomes the first Leeds United head coach/manager to start four consecutive seasons since Howard Wilkinson in 1992-93.
Assuming he sees out his new contract to end of 2021-22 season, Bielsa will be the second longest serving Leeds manager since Don Revie.
Patrick “one season wonder” Bamford?
Patrick Bamford was Leeds’s top scorer last season and scores two goals in pre season against Real Betis and Villareal. Let’s hope he can maintain that good form and avoid being labelled as “one season wonder”.
Leeds proved a formidable attacking force in 2020/21. Only Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Leicester and Spurs scored more goals and three of those five sides, including Pep Guardiola’s champions, tasted defeat against them.
Tough fixtures early season
Man United (A)
Leeds travel to Old Trafford for the opening day, hoping to banish the ghosts of last December when the team were beaten 6-2 by their arch-rivals.
Armed largely with the same squad, this time around Bielsa will be hoping to avoid a repeat of that fixture, which will be played in front of a full house for the first time since March 2020.
Regardless the result at Old Trafford, the next two home games will be important for Leeds. One win from Everton or Liverpool will be a huge boost in early season. For the next two away games, based on the last season performance, Burnley and Newcastle are win-able games.
Aiming for Europe?
Some fans maybe dared to dream of Europe after a ninth place finish in 2020/21. Just like Wolves and Sheffield United did in recent years. But I’m surely be happy to have another season fighting for the top-ten in the Premier League after so many years away, and it’s only second season. A time for consolidation but little more.
Second season syndrome?
“Ninth in the table is a good position but I don’t want to exaggerate something that is not that great,” Bielsa tells Sky Sports.
I don’t think Leeds will “doing Sheffield United” in suffering from second season syndrome. But I do anticipate a minor slump nonetheless.
Once this team found their rhythm like they did during second half of last term, they will be OK. The pattern will be quite similar as last season. Win some, lose some.
Prediction: Top ten contenders
It always difficult to make a prediction before the ball has been kicked or the squads have even taken their final shape.
However, I’m expecting 11 th place or somewhere near it. A top half and “mixed for Europe” are fantastic and over the moon. As for this, I’m happy to call Leeds are “top-ten contenders”.
The return of fans also a big boost for the club in their second season back in the Premier League. The fact Leeds fans haven’t seen top-flight football for what will be 17 years will only add to the anticipation.
(All pictures from leedsunited.com and leeds-live.co.uk)