Did Leeds United win the Championship BECAUSE of Covid?

30 Dec 2020 09:41 am, by YorkshireSquare

The issue of ‘Bielsa burnout’ has been raised many times before Karen Carney took to Amazon Prime to say Leeds only won the Championship ‘because of Covid’. It’s the go to tired trope of the uninformed pundit. But it’s not something I buy in to, not from the experience of Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United. I know the story, at Athletic Bilbao the team was flying, sitting fifth in La Liga, just one point outside the Champions League places but they faded, finishing tenth. At Marseille his team topped the table with 41 points at the halfway stage of the season. But again, they fella way only mustering 28 points during the second half of the season, settling for fourth place. But even when this Leeds United struggled last year they were still running more, creating more than another team. Whatever the reason was for not gaining promotion last season it wasn’t physical burnout.

After the game, the energy levels of the side were questioned, which I found bemusing. Like every side in the division, we have problems, but as a team we do not lack energy. The team has shown in every game this season that they have an excess of energy and I am confident that will continue until the end of the campaign.

Many journalists and pundits have said that the break in the season favoured Leeds. The team had a chance to recover from the strains put on them by Bielsa and his intensive training sessions and playing style over a long season. But it was exactly the same for every team. Brentford came out of the blocks flying, winning six on the bounce whilst Leeds stuttered early on. But when it came down to it, when the pressure was on, it was Brentford who bottled it whilst Leeds grew stronger and stronger, winning their final six games of the season and finishing ten points ahead of the chasing pack. I don’t think physical burnout was the issue with Leeds in 2018-2019, I think it was mental. Pressure does funny things to us.

It wasn’t the first time Leeds United have thrown away chances, I was at Wembley to see us thrashed by Aston Villa in the League Cup, in Cardiff to see us choke the play-offs against Watford and again at Wembley against Doncaster Rovers. Even when Simon Grayson eventually lifted us out of League One we nearly blew it, nearly threw it away again. We’re famous amongst other fans for bottling it, for falling apart. So many chances and opportunities wasted, but it’s not been the same group of players, not the same manager over the past 16 years. The one common denominator has been the pressure and expectation that comes with being Leeds United, it's got nothing to do with burnout.

Elland Road can be a ferociously loud place at times, there is little to rival Leeds United supporters on their day. But we can be an anxious bunch. The expectations of a team like Leeds United, the weight of our history and fifteen years of us watching our team fail. Is it all a bit too much sometimes? Both against Wigan and Derby at home last year you could feel the tension in the ground, the anxiety of the fans when things started going against us. Surely that must transfer onto the pitch to the players? But last season saw a much more mature and confident Leeds United, comfortable in their own skin at one with their destiny as they romped home by ten points.

So, did Covid and the lockdown have an affect on the season? Of course it did, to what extent we will never really know. But did Leeds United win the Championship BECAUSE of Covid? Absolutely not and it is lazy and uninformed to suggest so.