Leeds United are looking a good bet for a return to the Premier League after fifteen years’ absence this season, ending what many fans will regard as a dark spell in their history. The one-time European Cup finalists have been reduced to Championship also-rans in recent seasons, even bouncing into League One for a short while. Now, under the stewardship of Argentinian manager Marcelo Bielsa, they’re set to return to the big stage. The Premier League has proven to be two competitions within one in recent years. There’s the top six, an elite set of teams that always dominate the Premier League betting markets. Then there’s the rest, a 14-team division to decide who comes close to a Europa League spot.
This season, both Wolves and Watford have edged towards the top seven, hoping to secure that mini league and maybe bridge the gap between themselves and the behemoths of the English game.
Marco Bielsa at Leeds Utd
Marcelo Bielsa – By Рыбакова Елена – http://soccer.ru/gallery/48468, CC BY-SA 3.0
Leeds United, despite being as popular as the likes of Chelsea and Spurs at one point, would have to be satisfied with a place among the best of the rest in the Premier League. Would they make the step up with ease though? This season, Bielsa has moulded a team from the fragments of last years flops, keeping many of the same players and adding conservatively. He did sign a keeper from Real Madrid, but it was an understated purchase and the only one during a frustrating transfer window. Frustrating for the fans that is, not for Bielsa. He’s exerted a new influence over the club, heralding an era of thrift, not spending manically on players and never signing anyone likely to be surplus to requirements. If he were to ascend to the Premier League, the squad would need some serious additions.
His high-tempo game is admirable, but the likes of Ezgjan Alioski and Barry Douglas are not Premier League quality. Pontus Jansson, the Swedish World Cup star, would make the grade but former Chesterfield man Liam Cooper might find it a step too far, as will Stuart Douglas.
Star player Pablo Hernandez
Pablo Hernandez – By Juan Fernández – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
Pablo Hernandez is a player with top-flight quality, but as he’s well into his thirties even he might need replacing. The danger is that in moving forward, they take a step back. If Bielsa remains stoic in his approach, minimalist in his transfer dealings and rigid in his formation, he could well come unstuck. The halcyon days of the late nineties will be nothing but a distant memory for a generation of Leeds fans, but others of a certain vintage will feel that is what their club should aspire to. They want wonderful European nights at Elland Road, they want to celebrate in the Revie Stand when they beat Manchester United. But in their current guise that isn’t possible.
This season, Leeds have rebranded and evolved, they’ve become a solid Championship side with a method and a plan. If they go into the Premier League, they need to change again and alter the blueprint that has thus far brought Bielsa success.