Dreams of a Top-10 Finish may not be So Far-Fetched for Leeds

14 Sep 2020 07:50 am, by YorkshireSquare

Two seasons ago, Leeds United missed out on promotion by two games, losing in the play-off semi-finals to Derby County. In their place, Norwich City, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United all made the jump. Norwich came tumbling straight back down after putting up a mere 21 points, and Villa avoided relegation by just one point and a dodgy VAR descision. Then there were the Blades, who climbed all the way to ninth in the Premier League with 54 points and a neutral goal difference.

Sheffield United could have sealed eighth, ninth, or tenth, which would have earned them between £25 million and £21.1 million by way of the merit bonus. Coming ninth, the newly-promoted side sealed £23.1 million. Now, Leeds step up alongside West Bromwich Albion and Fulham, with many seeing the Elland Road inhabitants as being primed to emulate the success of the 2018/19 Championship runners-up.

Is the team suited to the top-flight?

Marcelo Bielsa claimed the 2020 LMA Championship Manager of the Year after fully-implementing his style of football in the second-tier to land the trophy. While the club began to slip in the early stages of the year, at which point the non-believers of Bielsa-ball started to chime, the boss managed to rally his team to secure the title by a considerable margin. Leeds’ ride to the title likely wouldn’t have been as bumpy had Patrick Bamford’s excellent movement coupled strong finishing.

In the Premier League, particularly for newly-promoted sides, the defence is the most critical aspect. Last season, the high-velocity scoring of Norwich couldn’t power its way through the top-flight, with the defensive frailties masked by goals coming to light. Luckily for Leeds, the promotion push was based on sound defending and quality goalkeeping, just as it was for Sheffield United. The Peacocks kept a league-high 22 clean sheets as well as 20-year-old goalie Illan Meslier holding a 70 percent clean sheet rate across ten games to close out the season.

Bound for the top or the drop?

A sturdy defence is much easier to maintain in the step-up if all of the key members are fit. Leeds’ backline is well-built and supported by recent England call-up Kalvin Phillips in defensive midfield, which should prove to be enough to stave off many encroaching attacks. However, goals will be needed from somewhere, and United can seldom afford the drops in form from leading scorers in the Premier League because the opportunities will come far less often. Coming up with the much-debated Bielsa-ball style of play, Premier League fans around the world have been discussing at length whether or not it’ll work at the top level.

Factoring in the youth flowing through the team, the hard work demanded from Bielsa, and the tactical flexibility of the team, the Four Four Two predictions see a 12th place finish as Leeds’ outcome. However, other experts see Leeds as having a strong shot at climbing higher, with the overall consensus being that they won’t be in the relegation scrap. As of 10 September, Betway’s odds on a top-ten finish give Leeds United a 2/1 shot at breaching the top-half, with the West Yorkshire side at 30/100 to be the top of the three newly promoted clubs.

While Leeds are above evens to get into the top-ten, Sheffield United were among the favourites to be relegated last season, finishing in 9th. Starting as a stronger unit, one could surmise that Leeds are in a better position than Sheffield United were to upset the odds and get into the top-ten.

A strong summer for Leeds

When Sheffield United joined the top division, manager Chris Wilder made several signings to bolster the squad to provide different aspects to their play and maintain a high level of energy about the group. Leeds United come up with a strong squad already, but have homed-in on players who will improve the side’s outlook in the Premier League, chief among whom is Rodrigo. As reported by Marching on Together, the striker joins Leeds for £27 million with a record of eight goals and three assists in 23 games for the national side.

The club did, however, lose a vital piece of the solid defence that earned Leeds promotion last season, with loanee Ben White returning to Brighton & Hove Albion. The now-22-year-old centre-back played in all 49 games for Leeds last season, leaving a tremendous hole along the backline. However, the club went out and signed a real gem, with mobile Germany international Robin Koch coming over for £11.5 million plus add-ons.

Coming up to the top-flight with lofty expectations and a great deal of outside intrigue, the idea of Leeds United finishing in the top-ten may not be as far-fetched as some would assume.