Leeds United have spent 16 seasons outside of England’s top tier – a truly unthinkably stat when the club were relegated in back 2004.
Many expected the club to bounce straight back, yet since then the only league the west Yorkshiremen have competed in since other than the Championship is League One.
Over the past few seasons, Marcelo Bielsa’s team have become a bit of a Liverpool lite. Every year their fanbase insist (some ironically, others less so) that ‘next year is our year’, only for marginal disappointment to follow.
However, this year was a little different. To everyone’s surprise – it actually was their year.
The pair were racing towards domestic triumph, until the postponement of the leagues following the coronavirus outbreak threatened to derail their title bids. And this is where the similarities in their seasons ends.
Despite the Whites’ recent form looking impressive on paper, the truth is they have been riding their luck for a while. Unimpressive displays against lowly Middlesbrough and Reading have seen Leeds bailed out by individual pieces of magic, with the team failing to break down opposition defences.
Championship season 2018/19; Leeds are storming their way to promotion glory, the team is playing well and creating chance. However, with just two months of the season remaining the wheels fall off.
From the middle of March onwards Marcelo Bielsa’s men picked up just three wins from their final nine league games, seeing them drop out of the top two. The Leeds squad had nothing left in the tank, Bielsa’s high-pressing style of play was too much for such a thin squad, and that showed as they threw away promotion in the second half of the season.
And anyone who thinks Bielsa would have learnt his lesson and was adapting his play this season, doesn’t understand Marcelo Bielsa.
The Argentinian tactician has used just 25 players this season – the second fewest in the Championship. Eight players in the Leeds squad have already started 34 games this season. Bielsa is not a man who likes to chop and change his starting lineup, and although that means he has a settled first team, his players suffer later on in the season.
And don’t be fooled into thinking Bielsa has changed his style of play to suit his small squad. Leeds have played exactly the same way they played last season – with a high press and full of energy when out of possession – their end of season slump was likely to be just weeks away before the league’s postponement on 13 March.
As it is, if and when the Championship season resumes, Leeds will kick off the first of their remaining nine games having had a minimum of three months rest, and the chances of them enduring another horrendous run of three wins in nine games like last year is very slim.
End of season burn-out will have no effect on the Leeds squad this campaign, and the league’s postponement just may have saved Leeds United’s promotion push.