Looking Back At Leeds United’s 2018-19 Championship Season
I would have snapped their hands off if at the start of the season if someone said it would be possible for Leeds United to finish third in the Championship. After finishing third, however, all I can feel is an overwhelming sense of disappointment.
Don’t get me wrong, I saw some of the best football being played since as long as I can remember. There were some fantastic moments including the injury time winners against Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers, but everything fell apart when we needed performances the most.
Leeds are falling apart again
The seemingly yearly tradition of Leeds falling apart after Christmas happened once again. Three defeats is all we endured during the first half of the season; we lost 11 times after Boxing Day. The form we showed in the latter part of the campaign was that of a mid-table side at best and our the majority of our performances we nowhere near the scintillating football we were treated to at the start of the season.
Injuries sure played a part in our demise. Kemar Roofe, our in-form striker, spend a decent amount of time in the treatment room, including during the crunch part of the season. Patrick Bamford was crocked, Barry Douglas and Gianni Alioski were crocked at the same time to leave us with no left back and we even had to sling a baby in goal in Will Huffer when Bailey Peacock-Farrell succumb to injury for a game.
Bigger squads may have coped with the ongoing injuries, but Marcelo Bielsa chose to operate with one of the smallest squads I’ve seen since supporting Leeds in the early 90s. Will he want more players for the upcoming season? I doubt we can afford to bring in too many reinforcements even if he does.
I’m of the belief that it was Biesla’s genius that ultimately cost us this season, which may sound bizarre. I’ve never seen such a transformation from a group of players who looked bang average the previous season, going to show the multi-million pound contract Bielsa and his staff command is money well spent.
The players simply had nothing left
One of the football cliches I can’t stand is when commentators state “Player X is giving 100% today.” It’s fucking impossible you dimwits, but Bielsa did exactly that. He managed to get every last drop of potential, energy and skill from his squad of players that they were playing at 110% or more for the opening part of the season. The problem here is that they simply had nothing left when it mattered and reverted back to type.
Liam Cooper, although complete dogshit for the last few games of the season, was a revelation in central defence while Kalvin Phillips went from a player who I thought would struggle to fit into a League One side suddenly became our a lynchpin in the heart of the midfield and is now considered indispensable.
What narks me is how we simply imploded towards the end of the season. How the fuck did we lose to a 10-man Wigan Athletic side that were languishing near the bottom of the league. How did Birmingham City take six points off us? What the hell happened at Brentford to effectively end our automatic promotion hopes?
The Championship Playoff against Derby County was awful. I was a nervous wreck for the first leg and was half pissed by the interval so much was the pressure. The return leg at Elland Road was a disaster. Stupid mistakes cost us but the way we simply handed the game to Frank Lampard’s side was almost criminal, especially as Derby don’t look a good side, as was evident when Aston Villa played them off the park in the final.
Can Bielsa work miracles again next season?
Perhaps worryingly, Bielsa openly said that he does not believe he can get the same performances out of this same group of players again. It was almost a once in a lifetime opportunity, players who are decent but nowhere near the best in the league all coming together and playing at their full potential, or better, much like when Leicester City did the unthinkable and won the Premier League.
The genius Argentinian has put pen to paper on a new one-year contract and that for me is interesting. Biesla knows he needs fresh blood in the squad yet our owner has said it will be a difficult summer for transfer dealings, suggesting the coffers are empty. Yet Bielsa has signed on the dotted line meaning he has either being told he will be able to bring in some new faces and, perhaps more importantly, that some of the crown jewels won’t have to be sold to balance the books.
I’d expect quite a few of the out of favour players to leave the club on a free or be shipped out on loan for another season to free up some space on the wage bill. Hopefully, we can convince some of the better players to stick around for another long, arduous campaign. The likes of Pontus Jansson, Phillips, Roofe and Jack Clarke are likely to have a lot of interest in them. Here’s to the lure of the Premier League not being too strong for them and the will to complete their unfinished business keeping at LS11.
Optimism fills the air at the moment, yet Leeds fans know to always edge on the side of caution. If, and it is a big if right now, we managed to keep hold of the nucleus of the current squad, add a central defender, a proper number 10, a winger who ca actually beat a man and put the ball into the box and maybe a half decent striker then we could quite easily go up automatically.
If the squad is asset stripped and Bielsa isn’t backed in the transfer market, not only could the 2019-20 season be awful, it could be without Bielsa at the helm and then Leeds will be falling apart again.