The steps Leeds United must take to bounce back
Leeds United fans suffered the agony of another failed promotion bid this season when missing out on a return to the top-flight at the semi-final stage of the play-offs. The Whites finished third at the conclusion of the regular season with stats of 25 wins, eight draws and 13 defeats.
A points tally of 83 meant they missed out on a place in the top-two of the Championship and the automatic promotion that comes with it by the skin of their teeth. Silver medallists Sheffield United ended with six more points on the board. Tough to take, but Leeds only had themselves to blame after taking just one of a dozen points available to them in the last four games, that run-in made up of lose-draw-lose-lose.
A disappointing way to end a season that promised much – Leeds challenging for top spot earlier in the year – but they made a welcome return to winning ways on 11 May when battling to a 1-0 over Derby County at Pride Park in the play-off semi-final first leg. Kemar Roofe scored the only goal of the game on 55 minutes to ensure his employers took a lead back to Elland Road, but it wasn’t enough to see them through.
Leeds weren’t able to get past Derby in the playoff semi-finals. The Rams battled back in the replay a few days later to book their place at Wembley courtesy of a 4-2 away win. Dallas scored a brace for the beaten team but that was no match for a Marriott double and goals for Mount and Wilson, the latter coming from the penalty spot. Both sides ended the match with 10 men, Berardi sent off on 78 minutes before Malone received a second yellow in stoppage-time. Derby won 4-3 on aggregate.
So, once again, it’s back to the drawing board for Leeds United and they are expected to make sweeping changes during the summer months as they aim to battle their way to a top-two finish and avoid the lottery of play-off football that has caused followers sleepless nights in recent times.
Manager Marcelo Bielsa’s future remains unclear but if he does receive the vote of confidence from a board famous for knee-jerk reactions, he will undergo a pre-season clear-out. The 63-year-old Argentinian has managed a host of big-name clubs during his career, including Athletic Bilbao, Marseille, Lazio and Lille but many believe he is operating on borrowed time in his current position.
The gaffer didn’t seem in a mad rush to tie himself to the club either and told members of the sporting press recently if Leeds offer him the possibility to carry on, he will listen to the proposal. Talk about keeping his cards close to his chest. Bielsa certainly didn’t appear to do too much wrong over the course of the season but he was the club’s fifth manager in five years and with his focus on youth failing to deliver in the short-term, it would be no surprise to see the board wield their axe once again.
Bookmakers have seized on that uncertainty, pricing up a market to be Leeds next permanent manager and there are some top names on the list. If El Loco gets his marching orders, who will fill the void? Alan Pardew is well quoted at the time of writing but there are others seen as a more likely appointment. Sam Allardyce is one of them, as is Scotsman David Moyes. Both are managers with success in the English game but neither have had their problems to seek in recent times. Could that force Leeds into a gamble? Man City coach Mikel Arteta is thought to be in with a shout. Promotion won’t be an easy task no matter who will be at the helm at Leeds with clubs like Fulham, Cardiff and Stoke topping the odds of well-known betting brands like 888sport (you can read more on their football betting markets and offers here).
It’s worth remembering at this stage, however, just how far Bielsa has taken the club since walking through the doors at Elland Road and taking charge in one of the most competitive divisions in European football. Leeds came a long way under the boss and it didn’t take him months to change their fortunes either. Many were surprised a manager of Bielsa’s class and experience would take a position in the second tier, but fans were delighted he accepted the challenge and were impressed by the way he took his footballing philosophy to a division notorious for scrappy play.
If the board do intend to stick with what they have go it’s no secret Bielsa will demand a war chest to go after his transfer targets as he aims to improve on the squad in the coming months. Forest Green Rovers winger Reece Brown is just one linked with a step up in grade. Brown has impressed for FGR this season, attracting a list of admirers and he’ll arrive on the cheap too as he’s out of contract. Not one that’s going to capture the imagination of fans, but they’ll be pleased to see the club moving early on targets.