How Marcelo Bielsa Can Ensure a Leeds United Promotion
With the Championship season now a distant memory, it is time to review and rectify in order to improve ahead of the new campaign. For Leeds United fans, it was a season of what-ifs, coming so close to securing promotion, and a long-awaited return to the Premier League, then suffering play-off agony. The first step to a new challenge has already been overcome; tie Marcelo Bielsa down for another year. But just what does ‘El Loco’ have to do to ensure that his side go one better next year, and return to the promised land?
How Marcelo Bielsa Can Get Leeds United Promoted
Improve Their Proficiency in the Final Third
Leeds had the worst shot conversion rate of any Championship side with 28.5% (256 shots, 73 goals). Though Kemar Roofe scored 15 goals this season, only two of those came in 2019, both in matches against Derby County. His injury problems plagued what started as a promising season, with four goals and two assists in his opening five games. Roofe has improved every season since his arrival in 2015, and there is a hope that he can become a more integral part next season.
Patrick Bamford hit the back net ten times in his 25 appearances. Though his 2019 goal-scoring form was better than Roofe’s, he was far from prolific for the Whites. However, he did suffer from similar injury problems, missing almost four months with ligament and knee issues.
Another striker to arrive last summer was Tyler Roberts, a former West Bromwich Albion player, like Roofe. His three goals in 31 appearances, nevertheless, are nowhere near enough to strike fear in the hearts of Leeds’ rivals. Leeds need another striker proven at this level to push them to the next step. With Dwight Gayle available, surely the prospect of him signing could be too good to turn down.
More Pace in the Wide Areas
With Leeds linked with Wolverhampton Wanderers winger Helder Costa, it is clear they are looking to improve their depth out wide. Since Jack Harrison returned to Manchester City, Leeds have four wingers, but Ezgjan Alioski and Stuart Dallas have been preferred as full-backs. They were perhaps too reliant on 34-year-old Pablo Hernandez, their creative focal point. Jack Clarke’s performances after his unexpected illness were not representative of his undeniable talent. That said, it would be unwise to heap too much expectation on the 18-year-old. Such dependence could harm his improvement.
For this reason, it is clear that depth out wide should be targeted. They remain a key part of Bielsa’s build-up play, and some new faces could be a significant step to promotion. With pace in the wide areas also an element lacking in their play, this should be an important factor they look at.
Bolster Their Defensive Options
Perhaps Leeds’ biggest problem is their remarkably thin squad. Playing under Bielsa can be a tough ask, especially in a long Championship season, where injuries are bound to take their toll. The defence is another area where Leeds are lacking. Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper were the Whites’ starting centre-backs, both of whom featured in the Championship Team of the Year. However, after the duo, Gaetano Berardi is their only other senior centre-back, and even he is primarily a full-back. He is prone to bookings; his red card in the play-off semi-final against Derby being the seventh of his Leeds career. Injuries also plagued his campaign, as he missed half the season through injury. Leeds need more reliable centre-back cover to mount a challenge for the automatic promotion spots next year.
Learn to Deal With Animosity
It is fair to say that Leeds are one of the most disliked sides in the division. The ‘Spygate’ saga, along with their antics against Aston Villa in April, will only add fuel to other teams’ fire. Some say this hatred could hark back to the ‘Dirty Leeds’ of the Don Revie era or hooliganism in the 1980s. Other rival fans believe Leeds to be too big for their boots, claiming to be destined to be playing in England’s top division. Therefore, it can be hard to deal with the hostility that playing for the Yorkshire outfit breeds.
Furthermore, playing in a near 40,000-capacity stadium with full attendances nearly every week can be a daunting task. It requires great character to be able to play at such a huge club, with a suitably large stadium. As such, Leeds need a squad united in their determination to turn Elland Road into a fearsome fortress for their promotion charge next year.