What’s next for Leeds United following playoff disappointment?
Background photo: Chris Robert Shaw, CC BY 2.0
Leeds fans were disappointed to fall to Derby County in the Championship playoffs, denying the Lilywhites Premier League football for a 16th consecutive season. The 2-4 defeat at Elland Road was a bitter end to the campaign, especially after dominating the first leg at Pride Park and winning the tie in league play 6-1 on aggregate. It's difficult to ask a squad to defeat an opponent so close in quality four times in a year. Derby finally figured Leeds out.
The question now is what next? The first thing that must be sorted out is the manager's future. The mercurial Marcelo Bielsa was noncommittal when asked about the coming season.
Anyway, the process and you know the process, that’s why I’m talking about it if the club offers me the possibility to carry on I will listen to this proposal.
El Loco isn't known for overstaying his welcome but the club must first decide whether they wish him to remain in charge. The late-season collapse is a pattern with Bielsa's squads. Given that winning the Championship or finishing second is necessary for direct promotion and the only other route is a playoff at the campaign's end, weak finishes aren't desirable.
On the other hand, the Argentine restored some swagger to the club. Can the board expect a new man to maintain the positive atmosphere in the clubhouse? Leeds haven't finished in the top six since returning from League One in 2009 although they just missed in 2016/17. It's fair to say Bielsa lifted them to a new level. In the interests of continuity, it makes sense for him to stay if he is willing. The club has gone through five managers in as many seasons. It makes no sense to keep spinning their wheels.
Aston Villa made the playoffs a year ago and repeated this term. Leeds must have the same goal in mind. Of course, Villa are back under a new boss with Dean Smith replacing Steve Bruce, so maybe the big wheel should keep on turning.
The next question is whether the squad can be held together and improved or whether the best players will be plucked by sides who did win promotion? More business in the January window might have kept the side fresh. Extra bodies could have allowed the Whites to sustain their success through to the end. The playoffs might have been avoided.
Defensive shortcomings must be addressed. Kiko Casilla failed to impress as the new goalkeeper. Look at the work Manchester United loanee Dean Henderson did between the sticks for Sheffield United. Casilla is signed through 2023. Can the team get the Spaniard back on track?
Meanwhile, Jack Harrison and Izzy Brown return to Manchester City and Chelsea respectively, their loan spells completed. Can they be brought back? Neither will make the first team at their parent club. Another loan spell under Bielsa should suit City and Chelsea. Keeping as many players as possible should encourage Bielsa to stay. Having to start from scratch would surely be less appealing to the 63-year-old.
If all is properly sorted, Leeds may find themselves gaining a second bite at the Premier League apple in 2019/20. If not, supporters must resign themselves to an extended stay in purgatory.