20 Days of the Premier League returns with Leeds United, a legendary club in the Premier League that finished in ninth place last season, its first in the top flight since 2004.
The Peacocks’ remarkable return to the top division in England has given them lofty expectations heading into next season, one that is wide open and could result in European football.
A Dramatic Return
Leeds’ manager, Marcelo Bielsa, demands more from his players physically than, perhaps, any other manager in the entire world. Whether it is constantly pressing or long sprints down the flanks, Leeds players are constantly flying all over the pitch and seem to never run out of energy.
Questions surrounding the team’s high-octane style were plentiful as pundits pondered whether such a “barbarian” style would hold up against the creativity and skill of the best clubs in England; a 4-3 result against Liverpool on opening day may have produced zero points, but it showed that Leeds was ready to take any team head-on.
Patrick Bamford led the team in scoring and was fourth in the league last season with 17 goals, improving upon his mark of 16 in the Championship in seven fewer games. Bamford, a one-time flame out at the Chelsea youth academy, has revitalized his career at Leeds and is now one of the more clinical finishers in England.
The defense and midfield were also solid both moving forward and dropping back to defend, though their tendency to press forward left them susceptible to the counter-attack. Leeds finished tied for the sixth-most goals scored in the league and only lost one of its last 11 games, taking 24 points from a possible 33 to close the campaign.
Building for More
Leeds did not lose any of its main contributors and increased their depth by signing ex-Barcelona left-back, Junior Firpo, and securing a long-term deal for Manchester city’s Jack Harrison after a successful loan with the club. Both men are only 24, and their youth will help Bielsa rotate the squad and he continues his relentless style of play.
Leeds also grabbed a star from Chelsea’s youth academy, Lewis Bate, on a permanent deal, and he could feature sooner than later. He and Kristoffer Klaesson, a 20-year-old Norwegian goalkeeper that was brought in for $2.2 million, are preparing to be the next generation of Leeds starters.
Bielsa’s contract has technically been expired since June, but the 66-year-old Argentine has stayed in England and been spotted running training sessions at the club’s grounds; he did not sign off on his last contract until the night before the new season began, and he is expected to retain control of his squad in the coming campaign.
Premier League teams have a history of making unexpected runs to qualify for European football— Wolves, Leicester City, and West Ham being the recent examples— and Leeds could be due to become the next in the long list of surprise teams.
Leeds rounded into incredible form to close out the season and have another year of experience in the Premier League, and they have the talent and management to consistently take points off of top sides.
Defensive instability will always be a concern with a team that presses so high up the pitch, but if they can limit opportunities coming back down the pitch, Leeds has a decent chance to finish in the top-six.
Regardless of where they finish, they will always be one of the most entertaining sides in the league.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.