With Leeds United securing promotion to the Premier League after a 16 year wait, all eyes will be on Marcelo Bielsa’s side to see how they fare.
Leeds United’s promotion could awake a sleeping giant but make no mistake about it, the main goal for ‘The Whites’ next season will be to avoid the drop.
Bielsa’s side must not get carried away as there is still work to do to ensure they are ready to take on the best the Premier League has to offer. All they need to do is look at Aston Villa, a club with a large fanbase and a storied history who could be relegated after only one season in the top flight. Here we pick what Leeds United need to focus on to ensure their return to the top flight is not a fleeting one.
Bolster the squad
The Leeds squad is shallow with acquisitions needed in the summer to ensure the can thrive in England’s top division. They have excelled in the Championship with plenty of contenders for Player of the Season, with two of their top perfomers this season being Ben White and Pablo Hernandez. White has played the most minutes of any Leeds player this season and at the time of writing is part of a Leeds team that has conceded the least goals in the division.
The 22-year-old has been a major success but he is only on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion with Graham Potter said to be a big fan of the defender’s mobility and composure on the ball. Although Leeds have secured Helder Costa on a permanent basis from Wolves, the signing of White must be high on the list of priorities with plenty of other clubs surely keeping a close eye on proceedings.
Pablo Hernandez has excelled this season in the Championship but at age 35, questions will be asked about how his body will cope with the physicality and intensity of the Premier League. There will be little time to rest with the next Premier League season starting in earnest. If the board decide Hernandez needs replacing then they must choose wisely because the whole team could fall apart with the wrong acquisition.
It is imperative that Leeds prioritise the striker position. Even if Bielsa plans on starting Patrick Bamford next season, he will still need to sign a back up option as the squad appears to lack depth in this department. They must make the right choice, as taking Aston Villa for example Wesley and Trezeguet have failed to produce consistent performances.
Norwich City meanwhile backed Teemu Pukki to score the necessary goals but after a bright start, he has faded badly. Therefore, whatever decision the club makes about their attacking options must be the right one.
Marcelo Bielsa has become a fan favourite at Elland Road with the team playing an attractive brand of football that has yielded them positive results. Although the team fell short last year when searching for promotion, Bielsa did not let past failings derail his side as they remained composed to seal promotion and lift the Championship.
It is critical that the board trust him as although he has managed to gain promotion using a small group of players, the Argentine will need backing in the transfer market if Leeds are to make a successful return to the top flight.
Bielsa is known for playing positive front-foot football but he will need to adapt and accept that Leeds will play games where they will not enjoy the lion’s share of possession. Norwich City have shown that failing to adapt will be costly in the Premier League but Leeds can be encouraged by Sheffield United who have used their system to great effect and could be competing in Europe next season. It’s important for the Leeds manager to strike the right balance between playing their brand of football and adapting to the superior opposition they will face.
The Leeds squad is lacking in depth and “Bielsa Burnout” is a possibility especially with the quick turnaround in games due to the quick re-start of next season. Also, the club and Bielsa will need to adapt to the new league and the media scrutiny which will follow every decision made by him and his players. The Leeds manager’s vast experience should be harnessed and the best way to do that is by him being backed in the market.
Make Elland Road a fortress
Although Leeds United have shown that they can win way away from home having secured 13 victories away from the comfort of Elland Road, the Whites must ensure they win their home games, especially against bottom half clubs. The Championship winners have lost only three home games this season, conceding just 14 goals and although they will face better opposition, they need to ensure Elland Road is a tough place for opposition teams to visit come the start of the Premier League.
With no supporters allowed in the ground under current restrictions, it will be harder to create an intimidating atmosphere for rival teams but the players will need to draw comfort from their excellent home form this season. Sky and BT Sport will no doubt be clamouring to cover Leeds’ return to the top flight and there will be more eyes watching Leeds than an average newly promoted side so they need to hit the ground running especially at Elland Road.
Embrace the spotlight
The media will focus heavily on Leeds’ return to the top table of English football considering the team’s past achievements, their large fanbase and the fact that Bielsa will be managing in the league for the first time. Their games against sides including Man United and Liverpool will no doubt be highly anticipated and it is important that the club adapts to the increased pressure that Premier League football brings.
A bright start to the season will no doubt help the club to achieve their goal of Premier League survival but if results do go against them at any point in the season, the same people who have heaped praise on Bielsa and this Leeds side will be quick to criticise.
It is important that the club realises that the pressure is higher in the Premier League with greater focus on every mistake a player makes. However, Leeds United have enjoyed the spotlight in the past and they must do so again in order to thrive in the biggest league in the world.