It’s time to welcome Leeds United back in the Premier League after a long 16-year absence. Under manager Marcelo Bielsa the dream is about to turn into reality for the 2020-21 season. The Yorkshire club dominated its 2019-20 Championship season by finishing right at the top of the table with 93 points, 10 better than second place. Leeds experienced a remarkable campaign to bounce back from 2018-19’s play-off misery, clinching promotion and returning to English football’s top table for the first time since relegation in 2004.
Leeds United have been known as a historically decent team that have the following achievements in their trophy cabinet: the English first division three times, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Charity Shield. In Europe, they reached the finals in 1974-75 but lost 2-0 to the almighty Bayern Munich side. However, in the 21st century, the Yorkshire club have languished in England’s 2nd and 3rd tiers.
How does Leeds play?
Bielsa, also known as El Loco, is ranked highly amongst managers such as Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino to name a few, and the reason is the manner in which the Argentine manager plays. His primary structure is a high rate of possession play with the ball. Bielsa’s side dominated the ball across both seasons, averaging 64% possession last term, the highest such figure of any Championship team in the last seven campaigns. Bielsa’s most-used lineup this season so far has been the classic 4-1-4-1 formation, which has suited the players around the team.
The EFL Championship has a demanding 46-game schedule, but that didn’t stop the manager from playing the same consistent set of players over the course of the season. Only twelve players featured in over half of Leeds’ matches in 2019-20, which could suggest there is a lack of depth in the team.
Fulham, who have also been promoted in the EPL, completed more passes per game than Leeds last season, but no team had more of the ball possession of 60% than the Yorkshire club. Also, Leeds had the most passes in opposition boxes.
It’s difficult to imagine Leeds dominating with the same approach in the Premier League against the likes of the big teams such as Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea, but Bielsa has been known change his approach, adopting direct counterattacking football, which is why the Argentine is applauded for his ability to shift tactical gears during a game. Only Hull scored as many counterattacking goals (6) in the Championship.
However, despite the team’s pressing approach and attacking ability, the backline has been important at the same time. Leeds’s goals-conceded per game average last season was the team’s fewest in a league campaign since 1973-74. Their haul of 21 clean sheets was also their best since then.
Players to look at?
After bringing a cultural shift in the city, it’s high time Leeds begin to introduce themselves in the big league and follow the path of Sheffield United, rather than Aston Villa or Norwich. Despite needing fresh recruits, the Yorkshire club has players that could step up to the Premier League. For instance, Kalvin Phillips has been recently called up by England for next month’s Nations League games against Iceland and Denmark. The young Englishmen ranks in the top five of Leeds’ squad for interceptions, tackles, passes completed, chances created and aerial duels won, emphasizing his influence on the side.
Pablo Hernandez is someone that the dressing room looks upon due to his experience in the world of football. He had four senior appearances for Spain during the 2009-10 campaign that ended with La Roja winning the World Cup. The 35-year-old has become the centerpiece to create chances and provide the leadership needed in a young squad. Note: Leeds won 2.18 points per game when he played last season – the most of any player in the Championship.
Another player who was influential for Bielsa’s side is Luke Ayling the team’s driving attacking threat who scored four times and created 28 chances.
Bielsa’s biggest bet has been placed on Mateusz Klich who has made 97 appearances for Leeds since the Argentine manager was appointed since 2018-19 season. The 30-year-old has scored 16 goals and provided 14 assists in the Championship over the past two seasons.
Ben White was vital to the back line, but he has been recalled to parent club Brighton following his successful loan spell at Elland Road, so fantasy managers may find him there. Though White was praised, it was club captain Liam Cooper who was the silent hero. Cooper is an old-school defender who has won more aerial challenges and made more clearances per-90 than any other Leeds player.
Latest Transfer Saga
Leeds are on the verge of sealing a club-record transfer deal for Valencia striker Rodrigo. Valencia have confirmed an agreement with Leeds, and the striker has already undergone a medical. The Spain international has scored 59 goals in 220 games for the La Liga club, helping them win the Copa del Rey in 2018-19. The 29-year-old featured in the Champions League and was attracting interest from Barcelona, so bringing him to Elland Road for around £30 to £35m is a massive statement by the club.
To replace Ben White, Leeds is chasing SC Freiburg defender Robin Koch and are very keen on bringing the German international to England.
Another player that the Yorkshire club is keeping close tabs on is the Rangers winger Ryan Kent; Bielsa is known to be a big fan of the former Liverpool man’s qualities.
Bielsa is also close to signing young striker Sam Greenwood from Arsenal for a reported fee of £1.5 million; as the 18-year-old is highly rated by The Gunners.
With such signing and potential targets, Leeds can say they have recruited well enough to begin their campaign against the Premier League champions Liverpool on September 12 at Anfield. Marcelo Bielsa’s side also face Fulham, Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United, and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in their opening four fixtures.
Surely Leeds United is one of the most exciting promotions in years. It’s a storied club putting a tactically fluid and innovative style on display in a legendary old stadium. How entertaining!
With what we have witnessed and seen of Leeds United, they do have lots of potential to shine in the Premier League. Many neutral fans will be interested to see how the legendary team fares at the top level after being absent for 16-year long years.
What do you expect from Leeds’ in the up-coming season? Do you think they will be another Sheffield United or just another dull Norwich or Villa? Will Bielsa outsmart many of the EPL managers out there? Any players you will be adding in your FPL squad? What do you think about Rodrigo’s appointment, hit or flop? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below!