Marching on Together - We're going to see you promoted?

Leeds United have just been awarded the Fifa Fair Play award for allowing Aston Villa to score against them in March - but are they ready for the biggest reward possible this season, a return to the Premier League? 

When Leeds United put together a run of seven consecutive league victories in November and December 2018, it seemed set in stone that one of the biggest clubs in English football would finally be back among the elite in the Premier League. From Pablo Hernandez' late winner at Sheffield United to coming from two behind to win at Villa park thanks to Kemar Roofe's last minute winner the belief was that the energetic, well travelled and respected Marcelo Bielsa was ready to take his side to the next level. 

Unfortunately four defeats in six followed and the pessimism that has usually been associated with Leeds United in recent seasons returned. This was a side that had been in the Championship since 2010, had lows of two 15th place finishes in 2013/14 and 2014/15 and seen 12 different managers in that time frame. There was the 'Spygate' affair which in the end was rather amusing and showcased information on Frank Lampard's Derby side to the whole league. It had everything from a £200,000 fine to a fine power-point presentation. Ironically, Derby had their revenge, knocking Leeds out of the play-offs at the semi-final stage. Defeat at home to Wigan, at Ipswich and the return game against Sheffield United proved costly as Bielsa's side finished 3rd, six points from automatically promoted Sheffield United.

Picture courtesy of  BBC Sport Football

This is a side rich with history of course and for those of you lucky or unlucky not to know a Leeds fan, I'll remind you they had tremendous success in the 60s and early 70s under a certain Don Revie. They won two league titles and were runners up a further five times. They won the FA Cup in 1972 with a 1-0 win over Arsenal and the League Cup in 1968. The achievements were not limited to this. After Brian Clough's 'reign' - watch The Damned United film - the club reached it's only European Cup final in 1975, beating Barcelona along the way. 

More recently, Leeds were the last side to win the old Division One title in 91/92 before the inception of the Premier League, finishing four points ahead of Manchester United, going unbeaten at home, and losing just 4 games all season. Furthermore, after a 17th place finish the following season, Leeds finished 3rd, 4th twice, 5th four times, 11th, 13th and 15th before being relegated in 2003/04 and never since returning. I am sure many people will remember the 2001 run to the Champions League semi finals and playing the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan, Barcelona and Valencia. 

Don Revie and Billy Bremner after winning the FA Cup in 1972
Pitcure courtesy of NationalFootballMuesum

This season started off with a win at Bristol City, more impressive considering Bristol have gone unbeaten since in the league at time of writing. Revenge against Wigan for last season was achieved as Leeds have started solid but with a couple of slip-ups in tow. The recent 1-1 with arch rivals Derby, probably due to a lack of spying, was disappointing to Leeds fan to say the least after dominating the game for large periods. 

Leeds will without doubt have to improve upon 13 league defeats last season if they are to have any chance of getting promoted. We all know Bielsa's style of play is very demanding of his players, as is his training sessions but the results are clearly there for all to see, with this team developing into a side that is competing at the top of the Championship yet again this season. Despite the loss of Pontus Jansson, rumored to be due to not wanting to let other teams score, the defence has remained solid and that is a big strength of this Leeds side. Casilla is an experienced keeper despite his odd lapse in concentration and Ben White has been a good addition alongside Liam Cooper. The main ingredient to this solidity if of course Kalvin Phillips who Aston Villa were after in the summer, but turned down due to the player's desire to win matches this season. I do worry about a lack of squad depth coupled with Bielsa's punishing style of play - meaning I think the play offs should try to be avoided this season. There are question marks over Bamford's overall play despite his goals so it will be interesting to see how Nketiah develops on loan from Arsenal after his impressive start.

I can see similar problems to last season, with results and performances weakening as the season progresses but if Leeds can get a regular goalscorer out of Bamford and get him to surpass Roofe's tally of 15 last season and continue with Nketiah chipping in they are a certainty for promotion for me. The rest of the starting team is as effective and well drilled as any side in the league but if there is no end product, Leeds will fall short again this season. But if there is one man that Leeds can turn to as the main inspiration, it is Marcelo Bielsa. I once read in a book that Pep Guardiola, among others I'm sure, revealed he developed his own ideas with the help of Bielsa's teachings. In fact I found an article to support this. The squad needs major refurbishment if promoted, but that's a problem for next season.

What do you think? Can Leeds finally return to the Premier League this season under Bielsa? 

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