Leeds United’s first season back in the Premier League after sixteen years in the lower divisions has been nothing short of exceptional. Here’s my summary of the season from a fan’s perspective.
Manchester City 1-2 Leeds UnitedEmbed from Getty Images
My favourite game of the season absolutely has to be the 2-1 away win against Manchester City. Everything looked set against us, going over 40 minutes without a shot and barely a touch of the ball, It really did look like your average Guardiola thrashing was impending. However, a quick counter was launched by a peach of a long ball from Liam Cooper to Hélder Costa. The the ball made its way to Stuart Dallas who smashed in a low effort off the woodwork to make it 1-0. We looked settled (and, in all honesty, were praying City would only score one in the rest of the game). We seemed to settle back into the game for a few minutes before Liam Cooper was controversially dismissed for a follow through on Jesus despite winning the ball.
City inevitably equalised despite Bielsa making the most defensive substitutions I’ve seen since he joined the club. He replaced Patrick Bamford and Tyler Roberts, two strikers, with Pascal Struijk and Robin Koch, two centre backs. Leeds held on fantastically for the next 30 minutes until Torres slotted away City’s inevitable equaliser. Then, in the 92nd minute, the ball broke nicely for Ezgjan Alioski, who played Stuart Dallas through 1 on 1 with Ederson. Dallas calmly slotted away Leeds’ goal of the season winner through Ederson’s legs. Leeds against the odds, beat the champions-elect away, a man down.
The City game was an obvious winner for me here, but an an honourable mention must go to the opening game of the season, the 4-3 loss to Liverpool. The work rate, desire and passion on display that night was extremely exciting and we truly showed the premier league we’re here to stay.
Manchester United 6-2 Leeds UnitedEmbed from Getty Images
The worst game is much easier to answer than the best. It absolutely has to be the 6-2 away loss to arch enemies Manchester United. Leeds were 2-0 down to a Scott McTominay brace in the 3rd minute. Leeds only managed a consolation goal in the 1st half going in at half time 4-1 down. Despite several changes, nothing clicked for the whites and the game ended 6-2. Dallas did score another goal of the season contender in this game, but it was never going to make the cut given the context.
Stuart DallasEmbed from Getty Images
Stuart Dallas. I don’t think anyone else has come close. He has played at right back, left back, defensive mid, centre mid, attacking mid, and on both wings this season. Dallas scored 8 league goals and they have all been impressive. Although he isn’t the most skilled or talented player, he has the best engine on the team. He is constantly running, pressing, tackling, getting forward and tracking back. His versatility and work rate make him crucial to Leeds United, especially given Bielsa does not like a big squad. He has been an absolute rock for the last two seasons and he still seems to have more in the tank.
Dallas also won Player of the season, Player’s player of the season and Goal of the season awards at Leeds’ end of season awards.
Hélder CostaEmbed from Getty Images
This is an absolute awful section to write. Not one Leeds player has been poor this season. I will reluctantly have to choose Hélder Costa. He very quickly lost his place in the starting XI when Raphinha arrived from Rennes on deadline day and hasn’t had much of a look in since. He had a couple of starts when Jack Harrison had a drop in form, and when Harrison was unavailable against City. The reason Costa makes the list though is his transfer fee. Leeds forked out £16 million for the Portugese winger. By contrast, Raphinha only cost £700k more and has contributed much more to Leeds’ success this season than Costa. I want to clarify, I am not saying Hélder Costa is a bad player. Just that his transfer fee, in context, hasn’t proven value for money.
Most improved player
Patrick BamfordEmbed from Getty Images
Leeds’ most improved player this season has to be Patrick Bamford.
Before sigining for Leeds, Bamford never really found a home at football. He appeared settled at Middlesbrough, but never seemed to force his way into a team and make it safe. He was part of the Chelsea loan army for a few years, having poor spells at Norwich, Crystal Palace and Burnley.
When Leeds put down £7 million for Bamford, eyebrows were raised in the media. It almost appeared reactionary. Especially given my last memory of him before that was him slotting a hattrick past us the season before.
In Leeds’ 2019/20 Championship campaign, Bamford picked up 16 goals and 4 assists in 45 appearances. In the Premier League 2020/21 season, the striker has finished the season with 17 goals and 6 assists. That’s 3 more goal contributions in 7 less games. Many people, myself included, thought Bamford would struggle in the Premier League. He has emphatically proven his critics wrong and I could not be happier for him. He has kept Rodrigo at arm’s length until the last few games of the season, and was extremely unlucky to miss out on a call up to the England squad for the European Championship.
Most underrated player
Jack HarrisonEmbed from Getty Images
Jack Harrison wins Leeds’ most underrated player for me this season. He has ended the season on 8 goals and 8 assists from 36 appearances in the Premier League. That puts the winger on more goal contributions than Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Jesse Lingard this season. He quietly gets on with his work, runs like a puppy and has a paintbrush of a left foot. Harrison has capably made the step up and now looks at home in the Premier League. Leeds have a clause in Harrison’s contract wherein they can sign him for £11 million in the summer. In my opinion, Leeds would be stupid to turn down that opportunity.
How did Leeds’ signings do?
RodrigoEmbed from Getty Images
Rodrigo had a tough start at Leeds. Not least because of Bamford’s blistering form at the start of the season. The Spaniard also struggled with injury and Covid in his first few months. Upon his return he made the number 10 position his own. His numbers haven’t been cracking, but he has come away with 7 goals and 3 assists this season despite the difficulty of it for him personally. Rodrigo will be better-evaluated in a years’ time once he has really put his stamp on this Leeds United team.
Robin KochEmbed from Getty Images
Robin Koch signed for Leeds in August and slotted straight into the starting lineup, and introduced himself with a handball in the box after four minutes. It was an extremely harsh decision and under new rules would not have been given. He then conceded a penalty in the game against Fulham (another debatable one though, in fairness). Since then he ahs been solid for Leeds and looked at home in the back line until he was forced off through injury against Chelsea in December. When he came back from knee surgery, he has filled in for Phillips in midfield a couple of times and looks extremely solid as a rotational defensive option.
Diego LlorenteEmbed from Getty Images
Diego Llorente struggled with injury when he first signed. His first appearance was as a replacement for the injured Koch against Chelsea. He completed the remaining 80 minutes but was forced out of the next month or so of fixtures with his own injury. However, since his return in February, Leeds’ defence has completely turned around. Looking impenetrable at times. He is fantastic at covering in defence, his passing range is exceptional and he has looked like one of Leeds’ best players in the run in. Llorente’s presence also drastically improved Leeds’ performance at set pieces. His equaliser against Liverpool has to go down as the most-celebrated goal of the season. It came just after the Super League debacle, and it seemed every football fan (including most Liverpool fans) celebrated that goal. He showed the world why the Super League had absolutely zero integrity.
RaphinhaEmbed from Getty Images
When Leeds signed Raphinha, fans were really excited. It only took one pass against Aston Villa to get Leeds fans dying to see him start. Raphinha has easily been the most entertaining player at the club this season. His wonderful nutmeg on Gary Cahill, his top bins screamer against West Brom, his clinical assists. Raphinha has to be the bargain of the window not just for Leeds, but in the entire Premier League. He is a typical Brazillian “flair player”, but he also comes with an end product. Leeds will be lucky to keep hold of him for too long, although he has absolutely ruled out a transfer in this window. But Whites fans are happy to enjoy him while he’s here.
In conclusion, Leeds’ season has been brilliant. I have loved every minute of it as a fan. The highs and the lows. We have shown the Premier League that we are here to stay, and have the quality and right to do so. We have outperformed the expectations of pundits. Bielsa has ignored the criticism and accusations of dogmatism. He has proven that success is possible with Leeds’ system. Leeds finished in 9th, 3 points off a European spot. Not only that, but if anyone had told me the two teams above us in the league would be Arsenal and Tottenham, I would’ve said “never”. Alas, we have overperformed by most people’s standards, and I am really looking forward to our next season in the top flight.
Headline image credit: Anthony Parkes / Elland Road Football Stadium