Leeds United Season Preview: Can the Whites build under Bielsa?

Ahead of the 2021-22 Premier League season Tom Victor takes a close look at the 2019-20 Championship winners as they aim to go even better than last season.

“Bielsa’s team adapted very well to Premier League football last term, working hard for their top-half finish, and this year will be all about whether they can maintain the intensity that served them well in 2020-21.”

Leeds will be keen to cement their position as a top-half team after impressing last term, and a lot will depend on the consistency of their existing players as much as the form of any new ones.

Pre-season results

Marcelo Bielsa’s team began their pre-season campaign later than some, beginning with a win for a youthful side against Guiseley in which highly-rated youngster Sam Greenwood was among the scorers. That was the only win in their first four pre-season outings, but regulars Patrick Bamford and Mateusz Klich got off the mark in a defeat to Real Betis. Leeds XI also lost separate preparation matches to Ajax sides, with the game notable for long-term injury victim Adam Forshaw getting more minutes as he attempts to play a part this season. The lack of positive results may be a worry for some, but the Whites began last season’s preparations with a heavy defeat to Stoke City and still ended up having a solid Premier League campaign, so plenty will be happy to trust the process and wait until the first few weeks of league action are out of the way before rushing to conclusions.

Bielsa’s team adapted very well to Premier League football last term, working hard for their top-half finish, and this year will be all about whether they can maintain the intensity that served them well in 2020-21. The return of fans could well help, with the Elland Road faithful made to wait for a chance to see this popular team in Premier League action from the stands.

Transfer business

Leeds took advantage of Barcelona’s fire sale by picking up defender Junior Firpo, who will essentially replace the departing Gjanni Alioski. The Spanish under-21 international never really hit the ground running after joining Barça from Real Betis, but he wouldn’t be the first man to thrive in England after leaving Camp Nou. If Firpo can establish himself as a regular left-back starter then it would also allow Stuart Dallas to spend the campaign further forward, where he made a real impact from midfield last term.

Jack Harrison has also completed a permanent move after spending last season on loan at Elland Road from Manchester City, and promising youngster Lewis Bate was snapped up from Chelsea, while long-serving players Pablo Hernández, Gaetano Berardi and Barry Douglas have moved to pastures new.

Replacing the dressing room impact of the players might be a bigger task than finding others to replicate what they did on the pitch, with Hernández a particularly influential figure.

Another man to leave the Yorkshire club is goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, with the Spaniard moving to Elche on loan and young Norwegian Kristoffer Klaesson taking his place as back-up to Illan Meslier.

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What the odds tell us

After a strong first season back in the top flight, Bielsa’s men are 1.75 to earn a second straight top-half finish. A rise into the top four will be more of a challenge, with odds of 12.00 available on the Betfair Exchange, and the 10/1 Betfair Sportsbook odds of a return to the Championship suggest second season syndrome could be a nagging worry for the more pessimistic fans out there. At the other end of the scale, though, anyone backing the Whites for an unlikely league title can get exchange odds of 190.00.