A 4-1 defeat at Bolton Wanderers on May 2, 2004 condemned Leeds United to relegation from the Premier League. Things took a more sinister turn at the end of the 2006-07 season with the not-so-mighty Whites dropping into League 1.
Leeds fans have been treated to some utter dross since being relegated from the Premier League, but now could be the time for Leeds United fans to start dreaming of a return to the promised land.
I don’t want to get carried away after only 10 games played, especially after what happened last season when we were top of the league in September only to spend the rest of the season looking over our shoulders and generally being shit. Yet I can’t help being optimistic, maybe a little over-optimistic about our chances of challenging for promotion this season.
Preseason gave reasons to worry
That optimism was nowhere to be seen before a ball had been kicked in anger. giving Marcelo Bielsa the head coach role looked to either be a genius appointment or doomed to failure. We only signed a handful of youth players, sold Ronaldo Vieira, one of our most promising young players, and seemed to be shipping out all the shite second-rate players that the previous regime had brought in.
Then came the signings of left back Barry Douglas from Wolves for £3 million, striker Patrick Bamford from Middlesbrough for £7 million and the loan signing of promising winger Jack Harrison from Manchester City, to add to the other loans of ‘keeper Jamal Blackman and the still-injured Izzy Brown.
Worrying, in my eyes, was the core of the starting XI under Bielsa was going to be the same group that looked devoid of confidence for long, drawn out spells of last season. Preseason was a joke with Bielsa never playing what we thought would be a likely first team and I feared the worst, even checking Betfair for the odds on us being relegated.
Bielsa works his magic; polishes several turds
My opinion has done a complete 360 after the first 10 games; Bielsa seems to be something of a genius. His ball breaking fitness regime in preseason has the entire squad looking leaner and stronger than I have ever seen and the fitness levels from the ‘keeper through to the striker are nothing short of ridiculous. There’s no doubt we’re the fittest team in the Championship and that should stand us in good stead.
Bielsa has manged to find a system that everyone has bought into. The Argentinian maestro has given new leases of life to the likes of Kalvin Phillips, Mateusz Klich and Kemar Roofe, all of whom looked lost during the previous campaign.
Phillips, for me, has been a revelation during the early part of this season. Everything from his positioning, tackling and passing has come on in leaps and bounds. I once said Phillips would struggle in League 1, now he’s a commanding midfielder for a legitimate promotion-chasing team.
Klich was sent out on loan last season when the first of our two managers that year, Thomas Christiansen fell out with him. The Pole is amazing, easily one of the best midfielders in the division. From a guy who looked like his career at Elland Road was over, Klich has returned to the fold and has shown his class wherever in the midfield he’s been asked to play. His composure on the ball, range of passing and goal scoring abilities have shown he will be vital to us this season.
As for Roofe, he grabbed his chance to lead the line before he succumb to injury. Four goals in six starts makes him our top scorer and one who kept £7 million signing Bamford out of the side. Roofe had his doubters, but he’s looked like a different player under Bielsa’s guidance.
Great results, better football
It’s not only the initial results that have impressed, it’s the football we’ve been playing that have captured the imagination. Some said Stoke City were poor – they were – when we beat them 3-1 but we demolished Derby County 4-1 on the road, were unplayable at times when he hammered Norwich City 3-0 at Carrow Road and Preston North End couldn’t get near us when we smashed them 3-0 at home.
The recent 2-1 defeat at home to Birmingham City looked to be a minor blip as all 11 players on the field looked to be having a bad game. And while we drew 0-0 at home to a very defensive Middlesbrough and 1-1 away to Millwall, those are games we would almost certainly have lost under a different manager and set up.
Some of the football we played against Sheffield Wednesday last Friday was sublime and if we’d have had Roofe up front, we’d have put the contest to bed long before the fluke, sorry wondergoal, scored by Adam Reach.
We’re currently second in the league having won five, drawn four and lost one, scoring 20 goals and conceded eight. Leeds may have only won once in our previous five games, but that is without Roofe, our most creative player in Pablo Hernandez and a quality forward in Bamford.
All three should be back in action by October 20 when we face Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park but will be missing for tonight’s game against Hull City and Saturday’s match against high-flying Brentford.
This team, and they look like a team again, seem to believe they can go all the way this season and you can’t help but start dreaming about returning to the Premier League under Bielsa’s guidance, even if them man does sit on an upturned bucket during games. There’s a long way to go this season, but like Liverpool fans say every August, perhaps this is our year.
Disclaimer: If Leeds lose to Hull today, discount all of the above, we’re shit, we’re going down and Bielsa out 😉