Leeds season preview: Steps forward or second season syndrome for last year’s great entertainers?

Initial excitement over, can the Elland Road club now establish themselves and show consistent improvement?

Karl Matchett
Wednesday 11 August 2021 15:36
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<p>Leeds had an impressive campaign last season after being promoted in 2020</p>

Leeds had an impressive campaign last season after being promoted in 2020

Last season

A long-overdue return to Premier League football made Leeds United one of the stories of the 2020/21 season. They were nothing if not entertaining: seventh-highest goalscorers, seventh-highest for conceding too, winning more than they lost and taking scalps along the way with wins over Manchester City, Leicester and Tottenham. Marcelo Bielsa’s approach drew criticism at times but was mostly appreciated, as they ended the season in ninth after a four-game winning streak to finish with. Versatility was a watchword for most of the squad, with striker Patrick Bamford scoring 17 league goals along the way.

Transfer window so far

Rather quiet, in terms of adding to the first team – Junior Firpo is the only real new face, in from Barcelona and capable of playing anywhere down the left. They have also signed Jack Harrison on a permanent deal after three years on loan, so no issues with settling in or not knowing what to expect there. Kristoffer Klaesson and Lewis Bate are among the youngsters to have joined. Departures are all free transfers: Barry Douglas, Ezgjan Alioski, Pablo Hernandez and Ouasim Bouy have all gone, while Kiko Casilla has left on loan.

Manager

Marcelo Bielsa; revered, respected...not yet re-signed to a new contract. But fear not, it’s just a formality, Leeds say, and there’s no question of him suddenly leaving. The questions for the Argentinian boss will now be regarding the campaign’s objectives: is it consolidation around the middle of the table again, making sure there are solid foundations to ensure Leeds’ stay in the top flight is a long one? Or will 2021/22 be about pushing boundaries once more, trying to break into the top eight and getting more out of the players they have?

Key players

Bamford as mentioned, with all eyes on whether the striker can repeat his goalscoring form. But Kalvin Phillips’s reputation was only enhanced over the summer with England and he’ll be key once more, along with winger Raphinha who is Leeds’ best player by a distance in an attacking, technical sense. He could easily go up another level this year. But this is a squad which has thrived on contributions from all areas, and will need the same again – including some whose year was wrecked by injury last time around including Robin Koch and Diego Llorente.

What would be success?

A repeat top-half finish, in truth. Of course Leeds might aim higher, but many clubs have risen from the Championship, belted out a great debut campaign and then taken their eye off the fundamentals needed to remain in the Premier League in their second year. It’s hard to imagine Bielsa allowing that to happen, but it’s a real possibility which they must avoid. If they finish higher than ninth, with other teams similarly attempting to improve, this will be a remarkable success story from Leeds.

August fixtures

(a) vs Manchester United, Saturday 14 August, 12:30pm

(h) vs Everton, Saturday 21 August, 3pm

(a) vs Brighton, Sunday 29 August, 2pm

Bookies’ ranking

8th (150/1 for the title)

Predicted first XI line-up

Meslier; Ayling, Cooper, Llorente, Dallas; Phillips; Raphinha, Rodrigo, Klich, Harrison; Bamford.

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