Is this the season that Leeds United make it back to the Premier League?
Background image by: Dom Fellowes, CC BY 2.5
Sitting two points clear atop the Championship after 26 games, things are looking good for Leeds United. With more wins than anyone and the joint-fewest losses, 2018/19 is the Whites' best opportunity in 15 years to return to the top flight were they believe they belong. But with the Championship being the unpredictable beast that it is, no guarantees exist. Can 2019 be the year Elland Road hosts Premier League games again? Time to take a closer look...
Marcelo Bielsa joined Leeds in the summer, replacing Paul Heckinbottom in the Elland Road hot seat. The former Argentina head coach signed a two-year deal, his appointment regarded as a coup for the Championship club.
Bielsa certainly brings a great deal of experience to the job. As well as Argentina, the 63-year-old managed Marseille, Lazio and Athletic Bilbao. Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino both refer to him as the best coach in the world. High praise indeed. If Leeds’ current position is anything to go by, Bielsa deserves his reputation. If the Peacocks continue in this fashion, he'll be facing Guardiola and Pochettino in the opposition dugout next season.
The Key Players
The sky is the limit for Roofe. Thirteen goals in 20 league appearances this season turns heads. The 26-year-old grabs all the headlines, a surprise after he scored just 11 goals all last season. His continued good form makes Leeds difficult to stop.
The Sweden international joined Leeds in 2017 and has been a key figure ever since. In 20 league games this season, he's contributed to seven clean sheets. The 6' 4" defender threatens from set-pieces, scoring two goals in the season's first half.
A midfielder with an eye for goals and assists. Hernandez can play effectively out wide or in an attacking midfield position. His seven goals and 10 assists play a big part in Leeds’ current position. The former Swansea man adds valuable experience to the team, a crucial factor come the campaign's business end.
January is a notoriously difficult time to sign players. Even so, one player can make a difference in a title push. Leeds reportedly showed interest in Huddersfield winger Rajiv Van La Parra before the 27-year-old joined Middlesborough on loan. Leeds may be looking to do some business during the window although Bielsa insists any player brought in must improve the squad.
I don’t think that many players will come in and I couldn’t tell you if actually there’s a player who will come or not. If the club can get players who are better than the ones we already have come and in the position where we suffered some injuries… for example, Samu Saiz left; Pablo [Hernandez] now plays as a playmaker and we need a winger. If players come, it will be better. And if nobody comes we will finish the season with the players we have and we trust all of the players we have. From what I know, the position of the club is if we bring a player in, it has to be a player that improves the group.
As well as a winger, Leeds can use another goalkeeper. The Yorkshire club relies heavily on Bailey Peacock-Farrell, their only first-team keeper since Jamal Blackman suffered a season-ending injury in an U23 game. Newcastle United’s Karl Darlow might be on their radar.
Leeds need to end a run of three straight defeats in all competitions. Friday’s game against promotion rivals Derby County offers an opportunity to reverse course.
If they can’t earn a result against the Rams, other opportunities are on the horizon. Two big games against Norwich (2nd) and Middlesbrough (5th) arrive in early February. West Brom come to town on March 2nd.
If things matters still hang in the balance on the final day, Leeds host mid-table Aston Villa, while promotion rival Sheffield United welcome bottom dwellers Ipswich Town. The Whites don’t want to procrastinate.
Checking past January tables ought to give Leeds fans cause for optimism. In the previous five seasons, every team atop the league in early January finished in at least second place.
The most similar scenario occurred in 2016/17. Like Leeds, Brighton were two points clear. Newcastle eventually overtook them but the Seagulls still earned direct promotion to the top flight.
History appears to be on the Peacock’s side. Having said that, the Championship is the most unpredictable league in the world. Expect many twists and turns along the way. Enjoy the ride, Leeds fans.