After 17 years away from England’s top flight, Leeds United returned to the Premier League last season and were a breath of fresh air under Marcelo Bielsa.
The legendary South American oversaw a stellar Championship campaign with the Yorkshire side that saw them promoted as champions, with expectations among the fan base relatively high following their return to the grandest stage.
It was a great season too for the Elland Road faithful, as Bielsa’s extraordinary man-to-man tactics worked well and secured the club a ninth placed finish with a positive goal difference.
It was a nudge in the right direction for Leeds, who many neutrals were delighted to see back in the big time and performing well.
They play with swashbuckling attacking intent, often prepared to concede goals if it means they’re able to score a few more at the other end of the pitch.
They all trust each other on the ball and are comfortable and confident when it comes to playing their way out of tight situations. All the fortune that their bravery brought last season was well deserved, but this season has been nothing short of a nightmare.
After a 5-1 thumping on the opening day of the season by rivals Manchester United, Leeds have managed just two wins from the following 12 Premier League games so far.
They are languishing three points above the relegation zone, with just 12 goals scored and 20 conceded. Starting striker Patrick Bamford has missed a chunk of the campaign through injury, while Raphinha hasn’t quite hit the heights he did last year.
Kalvin Phillips also seems to be suffering with a Euro’s hangover after helping England reach their first major international final since 1966 during the summer. Overall, the performances have just been poor for the most part and fans are beginning to worry.
But beyond them all it’s Bielsa who seems to have lost his spark the most. He isn’t nearly as animated on the touchline as he has been in the past, and while he has made decisions to make substitutions early in games he seems to lack the decisiveness he usually possesses.
A team that clearly thrives on confidence, Leeds are bereft of it currently.
They’ll take on a Crystal Palace side next who are still transitioning into their full potential under Patrick Vieira but have started the season well. Only Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool have lost less games than Palace and they’re also one of only seven teams in the division to not have a negative goal difference.
If Leeds are to start building momentum to survive this season, there is no time like now. They have seven games left in 2021 and four of them comes against the top three and Arsenal.
They need to win some games and sharpish, or they’re at a very real risk of being relegated at the second time of asking after fighting so hard to get back to where they believe they belong.
If anyone can provide a win for Leeds, it’s not the players on the pitch. It’s their leader off it and their tactical genius of a coach. He has all the tool and qualities to come up with something different for the team to get it to click again, and it must happen now.