Leeds United: Bielsa Pushing for Europe?

Leeds United had a brilliant first season back in the Premier League, registering a top-half finish. But what will, and what can they do this summer to build on their solid foundation?

For a lot of clubs, you may be expecting tactical changes to be included in this kind of article. However, having seen every minute of Bielsa’s Leeds, I know that will not be happening. Leeds’ summer is going to be another window of players coming in from other leagues to avoid the “Premier League tax”.


Centre Back

Leeds have more than enough depth at centre back now. With the signings of Diego Llorente and Robin Koch last season and the emergence of Pascal Struijk, Leeds are not in a position where they need to sign cover for the departed Gaetano Berardi. Berardi was absent for most of the 2020/21 season with an ACL tear.

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Fullbacks

Leeds needed to enter the market for a new left back, with both Ezgjan Alioski and Barry Douglas leaving the club. They snuffed out an absolute bargain, signing Junior Firpo from a cash-strapped Barcelona for £13.5m (source: Transfermarkt).

Firpo epitomises a Marcelo Bielsa player. A versatile fullback who plays capably on either side of the defence, in a back 3, or even on the left-wing. He had a notably solid performance against PSG where he was subbed on for Oscar Mingueza, who had failed to keep Mbappe quiet and had picked up a booking, in the 35th minute. Firpo was not dribbled past once in the 55 minutes he played against the PSG and France star. He’s a very attack-minded fullback, and has brilliant energy levels, meaning he has the ability to recover as well. He will prove to be a very much needed signing for Leeds, and I have no doubt that under Marcelo Bielsa’s leadership, he will improve massively. Just as the rest of the squad has.


Central Midfield

Central Midfield is somewhere Leeds have struggled for depth previously. With Adam Forshaw out with a long term injury, and Mateusz Klich appearing jaded after his 130 appearances under Bielsa. Stuart Dallas did, however, deputies last season. He even nicked the position from Klich in the run-in, following his notable performance against Manchester City, scoring the 2 goals in a 2-1 win at the Etihad.

However, the main issue seems to be at defensive midfield. Robin Koch deputized for Kalvin Phillips a couple of times last season, starting there against Tottenham and Brighton. He didn’t look out of place, and he does have the attributes to play there. However, he didn’t manage to get on the ball as much as Phillips does, and most of the play was coming from the fullbacks or more advanced midfielders.

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Leeds have been linked with a number of midfielders this summer, from Cagliari’s Nahitan Nandez to Lanus’ Tomas Belmonte. However, none of these seem to be concrete. Leeds are, however, in talks with an “unnamed midfielder”. It could be one of the aforementioned players. But, if so, it has been kept well under wraps.


Wingers

Leeds predictably signed Jack Harrison on a permanent deal for £13.5m. This is an absolute bargain for a player who provided 8 goals and 8 assists in the league last season. He has been ever-present in Bielsa’s time at Leeds. He is physical, quick, and has a peach of a cross.

That means in the first team Leeds have Jack Harrison, Raphinha and Hélder Costa. Ian Poveda made a few cameos towards the end but you can’t help but feel he is still a little way off the first team. Besides, I just named four left-footed wingers. Given Leeds also have two left-footed strikers you can’t help but feel it adds a bit of one-dimensionality to their attacking force.

Leeds have been linked with another attempt to sign Manchester United winger Daniel James, after their failed attempt in the 2018/19 season, which was well-documented in the Amazon documentary, Take us Home: Leeds United. (Watch the Dan James transfer saga here). Manchester United have signed Jadon Sancho in a £73 million deal from Borussia Dortmund, which will leave James firmly on the fringes, with Mason Greenwood ahead of him in the pecking order. Marcelo Bielsa is set to be a big fan of his work rate, his pace, and his ability. He does look like the perfect Bielsa signing, and it will be interesting to see how this saga develops.

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If Leeds fail to sign Daniel James, they could prepare another bid for Rangers’ Ryan Kent. Rangers rejected a £10 million bid from the whites last summer. He has had another fantastic season in Rangers’ title-winning season in the Scottish Premiership, as well as impressing in the Europa League. Much like James, he offers scintillating pace and a deadly instinct in the box. He racked up 10 goals and 9 assists in the league last season.

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Either of the aforementioned wingers would be a good fit at Leeds. However, don’t be surprised if Leeds look outside the bigger leagues, as they did with Raphinha.


Striker

A striker is not a priority for Leeds United. They have Patrick Bamford, who scored 17 goals and provided a further 7. They also have Rodrigo who came up with 4 goals and an assist in his last 4 games, having struggled with injury. Tyler Roberts is a good enough backup option there, and there are Joe Gelhardt and Sam Greenwood who are killing it in the Under 23s at the moment.

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Conclusion

If Leeds sign one of these targets in each position, (excluding fullback, given Firpo is already signed), I genuinely think a push for European football is on the cards. Leeds finished the season in 9th place. It also went relatively under the radar that Leeds were missing three senior, international centre backs in some crucial games, with Luke Ayling deputising alongside Pascal Struijk in some key fixtures in December / January. Add that little bit of quality into the team and Leeds look good for a shot at Europe.


Headline Image Credit: Mtaylor848, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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