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If the sacking of Thomas Christiansen was intended to bring about a renewal of Leeds’ promotion push, it hasn’t exactly paid off. When Christiansen departed on 4th February, Leeds were tenth in the table. Seven games and one win later, and they are down in 13th, 11 points off the play-offs, and barring a remarkable late resurgence, Leeds fans will be preparing for yet another season in the Championship.
In truth, the team had been in a steady decline for a number of weeks. A superb start to the season saw them top the table for the second half of September, but they promptly went on a run of eight defeats in 11 games, and aside from a brief resurgence in December, they continued to slide downwards, out of the play-offs and in the direction of mid-table. In fact, after first topping the table, Leeds won nine of their next 30 Championship games.
With promotion this season looking distinctly unlikely, what do Leeds need to do to make a more concerted push next year? It is likely that bookies will rank them among the play-off contenders for 2018-19, but fans will know that there is a lot of work to be done between now and next August before they start placing bets.
The most obvious priority is better coordination between manager and club when it comes to buying players. The arrangement by which Director of Football Victor Orta is in sole charge of transfers is unsustainable and it will be up to Paul Heckingbottom to work behind the scenes to ensure that he gets his way when it comes to recruitment. Getting out of the Championship is hard enough, but being forced to attempt it with players you didn’t want at the club would be incredibly and unnecessarily difficult for most managers.
When it comes to this summer’s transfer targets, another goalkeeper may be near the top of the list. Among the players who could be on the way out are keepers Felix Wiedwald and Andy Lonergan, and the club will need to bring in a reliable alternative to the promising Bailey Peacock-Farrell. It is also likely that they will concentrate on bringing more British players into the squad after a number of foreign imports – most notably Mateusz Klich, Jay-Roy Grot and Paweł Cibicki – failed to adjust to the physical nature of Championship football.
It is also going to be important for the club to tie down key playmaker Pablo Hernández. His contract is up at the end of the season, but Heckingbottom will surely see him as key to the team’s promotion prospects next season, along with the versatile Matthew Pennington, whose lone deal expires in May. However, if Leeds can get their transfer strategy right this summer, and if Heckingbottom is given consistent support from the owner next season, then there is every reason to hope that Leeds can make a serious push for promotion in 2018-19.