“We all love Leeds” is a chant we’ve become accustomed to hearing over the years and having such a team with the calibre and history of Leeds United in the Premier League is something football fans love, or hate, depending which side of the Leeds fence you fall on. One thing is for certain, if they are to continue “marching on together” in the top-flight beyond this season they need to turn around their misfortunes and start putting a decent run of form together.
Marcelo Bielsa got Leeds United promoted playing high-intensity, free-flowing and quite honestly frantic football. Their ability to outrun teams became the norm as did having high scoring matches, which for entertainment purposes is absolutely wonderful and as a neutral something we all love to see. Last year during the COVID season they put in some fine performances and generally got the rub of the green, gaining some fortunate results that, when stadiums have been full, have since fallen the other way. They finished the season in the top half, Kalvin ‘The Yorkshire Pirlo’ Phillips became an England star and helped get the national side to a Euro 2020 final but saving the best until last, Marcelo Bielsa signed a new contract. Life as a Leeds United fan was perfect.
Yet here we are in mid-December and life all of a sudden is far from perfect for the side. After 17 games, Leeds sit 16th in the table having won three, drawn seven and lost seven, conceding 32 goals in the process, granted nearly ⅕ of those came in last night's thumping against Man City. It just hasn’t been the same Leeds side we saw last season. But that’s exactly it, it has not been the same side at all. The squad has been plagued with injuries to the likes of Patrick Bamford (6 games played), Kalvin Phillips (12), Luke Ayling (8) and Robin Koch (1) all notable absentees from the starting XI.
Bielsa enjoys working with a small squad of players who are willing to give their all for his philosophy but when you get hit with injuries to key starters, having Championship-level players and inexperienced youngsters as back-ups will only get you so far. This is the harsh reality Leeds are currently having to face. The other immediate issue that injuries present is consistency. Players aren’t able to build a run of form because they are rotated, played in a new position or with new people, in fact, Leeds have only fielded an unchanged side twice this season and that was against Chelsea and Man City. This level of inconsistency is never a positive tell when you’re fighting to stay above the dropzone.
Now it’s obvious to most outside of Leeds that fans won’t call for Bielsa to be sacked. They are besotted by him and given what he’s done for their club who can blame them, but Marcelo is a calculated man and should things continue in this downward trajectory it would be no surprise to see him walk away. That’s just the type of character he is. It wouldn’t be a slight against Leeds United at all, he would be acting on what he believes would be best for the club. The Leeds United board will be hoping that the Argentine can turn things around because should they ever get to the stage where they have to sack him, they’d have the entire fanbase to answer to. The days of Steve Evans, Garry Monk or Neil Redfearn are long gone and the next appointment to follow Bielsa at Elland Road would have to be something very special.
Another solution to the current problem would be to use the upcoming transfer window to strengthen the depth of the squad. We know Leeds have the funds to spend big and they’ve proven that with signings like Rodrigo, Raphinha and Dan James but without Kalvin Phillips the midfield struggles so that would almost certainly be an area to strengthen. They heavily courted Rodrigo De Paul from Udinese before his summer move to Atletico Madrid so there’s no doubt the club scouts will be hard at work finding someone of a similar mould.
It’s going to be a nervy second half of the season for Leeds United fans and Bielsa’s knees will be severely tested but should their squad be fit and stay fit in unison there is no reason why this side can’t stay in the Premier League for years to come.
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