Championship preview: Can Leeds United finally return to the Premier League?
Championship football begins this coming weekend. Leeds United are prepping for their first match. The Whites were 13th last season, a step backwards from 2016/17 when they finished seventh, missing the playoffs by five points.
With the new manager signing late, there haven't been many transfers so far in this window. Eight players have been shown the door but the West Yorkshire club are currently in talks to sign Middlesbrough's Patrick Bamford. The striker/midfielder could be an important addition if signed before the season begins. Bamford alone could be key to Leeds' progress this forthcoming campaign. Barry Douglas from Wolves is another promising addition.
Leeds' roster was already deep. Key players in 2018/19 will be Samuel Saiz, Pontus Jansson and Kemar Roofe.
Marcelo Bielsa was appointed on 15 June. The 63-year-old Argentinian has never managed in England. The former Argentina boss brings experience and new contacts. Bielsa has managed in France, Spain, Italy, Chile and Argentina.
I know everything a foreigner could have possibly absorbed about Leeds and what it means to the fans, I have seen all 51 games that Leeds played last season and the two friendlies [in Myanmar in May].
It is a good sign to see a manager who researches a potential employer in such detail, especially that he empathises with the supporters' perspective. That passion should be transferred into the dressing room come match days.
On the other hand, his mercurial nature has many worried. Bielsa has left more than one club at the drop of the wrong hat.
Fans will see how the decision pans out beginning with Leeds' first game at Elland Road against Stoke City on Sunday.
In shades of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, all four new players in this window are left-backs. It was an area that needed more depth. Daniel Martin from Fulham, Joshveer Shergill from Walsall and Leif Davis from Morecambe all arrived in July. Last to arrive was Barry Douglas. The Scotsman bagged five goals and 14 assists in the West Midlands club's just completed title-winning season.
Romario Vieira, Felix Wiedwald and Marcus Antonsson count among the departed. Bielsa has added Lewis Baker and Jamal Blackman on loan from Chelsea. The new Leeds boss has until 9th August to make additional signings.
More goals will be needed and less conceded which, I suppose, is a universal theme. But for Leeds, it is a must. Bamford will diversify the squad. With more than 30 players, Bielsa can tinker to his heart's content. That said, one or two more signings could be key, which would mean letting a few players leave to balance out the squad. Life under Bielsa, however short, is always interesting.
Defenders Luke Ayling and Pontus Jansson along with midfielders Samuel Saiz, Kalvin Phillips and Ezgjan Alioski played big roles last season. Kemar Roofe is expected to replace Pierre Michael Lasogga's 10 goals. Leeds couldn't extend the German's loan deal.
The majority of the squad are in their peak years. The oldest outfield player is Pablo Hernandez. At 33, he might be considering his place in Bielsa's starting lineup. Although some will be asked, no one should want to leave. Leeds is poised for a promotion push.
A few youngsters coming into the Leeds squad have been loaned out already. Lewie Coyle went to Fleetwood Town, Tyler Denton to Peterborough United, Paudie O'Connor to Blackpool and Liam Kitching to Harrogate Town. Alex Machuca has been loaned to Burgos CF in his native Spain's third tier. Forwards Jay-Roy Grot (VVV-Venlo) and Mallik Wilks (Doncaster Rovers) will also find playing time elsewhere. All these youngsters have the potential for a future at Leeds, but that will be down to Marcelo Bielsa.
Last season's finish signalled the need for a turn-around. Barry Douglas' signing indicates Leeds are altering their course. Playoffs are probably the most realistic target but mid-table won't be enough. Given Bielsa's powers, however, don't rule out automatic promotion.
Leeds have a strong, vocal fanbase that can serve as a catalyst for success. With Elland Road holding just under 38,000, the Peacocks are set for the season they have long been craving. It's been 14 years since Premier league status. They must prove their time is now.