Why Not Try Something a Bit More Unconventional? - Leeds Pre-Season Report
Tuesday, 24th Jul 2018 14:00 by HarryFromBath
In the third of a series of pre-season reports, HarryFromBath assesses the mood around the Championship clubs by delving into their forums, looking here at how things have progressed at Elland Road this summer. All of the teams in the division will be covered between now and the start of the season.
“There has been a sea change at Elland Road from last season. It looks like the powers that be have realised that you can't do it on the cheap with players from some lower league. It's a positive step. It also looks like they identified a top manager and reportedly given him a high wage for his services.”
The arrival of 62-year-old Marcelo Bielsa in June caused an understandable tremor of excitement among Leeds fans. With a CV including managerial stints at Espanyol, Marseille, Athletic Bilbao, Lazio and the national teams of Chile and his native Argentina, hopes for the season skyrocketed.
“Our movement and interplay in pre-season have been far superior to last year which bodes well.” Fans have quickly embraced the brand of football he is trying to develop but the lack of high-quality signings with the transfer deadline day fast looming has dampened expectations as time has passed.
“If we don't sign any quality we are going to finish mid-table or below. There was huge optimism once the season ended and we signed Bielsa. We were all suddenly longing for the season to start. Now that optimism has been shot a little. We're not sure what we're going to get from this season.”
An Urgent Need for Signings
“We appear to be going into the new season with mainly the same team as last year. We know that this is a mid-table team. Even if our new coach is able to get them playing better we are talking of an improvement of four or five places in the league, and certainly not anywhere near the play-offs.”
“We need to get signings in. Urgently.” Just two new players, both loan signings from Chelsea, have arrived so far this summer. Keeper Jamal Blackman, 24, featured regularly for Sheffield United on loan last season while 23-year-old central midfielder Lewis Baker was on loan at Middlesbrough.
“If this doesn't get sorted it will be another ordinary season. I hope I'm wrong. I hope we really do see some activity this week. I'm coming up to the home game against Stoke in three weeks’ time. I think we're going to get thumped if we don't see something happening in the next couple of days.”
“I'm now worried about the new season. I have been quite sanguine about the whole thing, arguing that things would happen after the World Cup but I’m now beginning to question just how much of our budget has gone on our superstar head coach in relation to what might be spent on players.”
“I wasn’t, and I’m still not convinced Bielsa is the man, but it’s reassuring that he’s prepared to work with the players rather than sell them all off and start again. That’s what we do with every manager now, they all want their own players. When we sack them within six months the cycle starts again.”
“We already look kind of like a Bielsa team. with a lot of movement and the full-backs very much involved. Bielsa replaced the sacked Paul Heckingbottom in June after the former Barnsley boss had a mere 16 games in charge of the club. Fans can already see the brand of football he’s developing.
“Bielsa wants high-tempo, attacking football with high-pressing, inverted full-backs, flooding the midfield, outnumbering the attack with a spare defender, typically with three at the back and a big target man up top and fluidity behind him. His sides are super fit and very comfortable on the ball.”
“If you're Wolves and have a continental super-agent and the money to do his job properly, happy days, but what about a middling club with a limited budget? I simply can't imagine players like Kalvin Phillips, Vurnon Anita, Stuart Dallas, Eunan O'Kane etc playing anywhere like this level of football.”
“I’d be more optimistic with Bielsa’s tactics than someone like Mick McCarthy’s hoofball. The foreign players we have would be more willing to buy into the mentality and ethos of a coaching legend like Bielsa than some fella who has been marooned in Norfolk [sic] for 10 years and just shouts a lot.”
Getting Rid of Mistakes
The club has moved on many recent unsuccessful continental additions. Keeper Felix Wiedwald has returned to Germany and joined Eintracht Frankfurt while midfielder Madger Gomes has switched to Sochaux. Striker Pierre Michel Lasogga also returned to parent club Hamburg SV after his loan spell.
Striker Jay-Roy Grot is now with VVV-Venlo on a season-long loan while frontman Pawel Cibicki has moved to Norwegian side Molde FK on loan until the end of the year. Striker Marcus Antonsson, who was loaned out last season to Blackburn, has also now left the club permanently to sign for Malmo.
Veteran keeper Andy Lonergan has left the club by mutual consent, while a number of promising younger players have been loaned out to lower league clubs, including full-back Lewie Coyle (to Fleetwood), striker Mallik Wilks (to Doncaster) and defender Tyler Denton (to Peterborough).
The Whites have played three of their five pre-season friendlies, with strong starting XIs beating Forest Green 2-1 last Tuesday and drawing 1-1 with Southend on Saturday. A team composed of mainly U23 players also drew 1-1 with National League North York City last Thursday.
Although Bielsa has often been associated with a 3-3-1-3 shape, he has reverted to a back four with three midfielders in his line-ups at Southend (above). The earlier Forest Green team saw one change with Pablo Hernandez on the right wing and Dallas starting at left-back instead of Laurens de Bock.
“The passing looks sharper crisper than last year and we seem fitter. When in attack there isn’t much of a gap between the front and backlines, which is very Bielsa-esque”, “We dominated with some very good build-up play, but shots on goal were few and far between. We really do need a striker.”
Full-back Luke Ayling has blossomed under the new coach. “Ayling is amazing and one of our most important players. His injury last season was the single biggest reason for our horrible last half. He has a phenomenal work-rate and thrives on the freedom he is given to get down the right flank”.
“Our makeshift defence has been all over the place.” With centre-half Pontus Jansson absent after being on World Cup duty with Sweden, the side has struggled defending set pieces. “Man alive, we need some centre-backs. I can think of 23 other Championship clubs who will love our approach.”
Photo: Action Images
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