Image Credit- Football League World
The 2018-19 EFL Championship was in some ways, a season of firsts. No team who had topped the table at Christmas had failed to be promoted in the same season. Also, no team who had won a play-off semi-final first leg away from home had failed to be promoted.
Step forward, Leeds United.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side were a revelation in 2018-19, producing a brand of football virtually unseen before the Argentine’s arrival at Elland Road. With practically the same squad that had limped to 13th place in 2017-18, Bielsa’s Leeds raced to the upper echelons of the Championship table, not dropping below fourth the entire season.
Alas, promotion to the Premier League eluded them, and their collapse against Frank Lampard’s Derby County at Elland Road in the second leg of the play-off semi-finals proved to be a dismal end to what was otherwise an electrifying season for Leeds.
Whilst it would be unfair to suggest that the ‘wheels fell off’ towards the back end of the campaign, there is a valid argument to suggest that the ‘El Loco-motive’ did run out of steam during the latter stages of the season, with injuries playing a large part in Leeds dropping into the play-offs from the top 2.
Bielsa dismissed reports that the famous ‘Bielsa Burnout’ was to blame for Leeds’ failure to get promoted, arguing instead that the players had ‘performed to a level higher than ever before’ and that they ‘wouldn’t be able to repeat the physical and mental efforts of this season in another.’
So, with another season, and another gruelling Bielsa pre-season under their belts, how are Leeds shaping up in their bid to finally return to the top-flight in their centenary year?
Playing almost the exact same style of fluid, attacking football in Bielsa’s famous 3-3-1-3 formation, Leeds have started this season in a similar fashion to the last, creating by far the most goalscoring chances in the division, and having by far the best defence in the division, transformed by elegant Brighton centre-back Ben White.
However, last season’s problems have refused to subside. One of Leeds’ issues in 2017-18 was not capitalising on the vast numbers of scoring chances they created, with the efforts of Kemar Roofe and Patrick Bamford, both injured for large swathes of 2018-19, mustering only 24 goals between them.
This season, Roofe is gone, replaced by promising Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah, yet Bielsa has preferred starting Bamford for his industrious playing style, despite his mere 6 in 18 strike-rate. If Leeds can rectify their goalscoring issues, they will be unstoppable. If not, failure may await them again, which could spell the end of Bielsa’s tenure.
However, if any pair know failure, it’s Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United. Bielsa’s last domestic title was in 1998 with Velez Sarsfield, and the Argentine hasn’t won a trophy in nearly ten years of European management.
Leeds’ last notable ‘success’ was promotion to the Championship exactly ten years ago, and their fans the world over hope that a decade on, they can celebrate their centenary with a return, to where they feel, their beloved club belongs.