Abiha Khan investigates Leeds United’s incoming Premier League squad. As the recently promoted West Yorkshire powerhouse go from spying to flying, she scouts their star players and the weaknesses that could put them at risk in the English top-flight.
Leeds United had one wish: a return to the Premier League after 16 painful years away. The answer to West Yorkshire’s prayers came in the form of manager Marcelo Bielsa. After narrowly missing promotion last year, the Argentine’s aggressive and high-pressing style sent The Whites soaring to the top of the table. Not even Leeds’s fans could quite believe this miracle.
Leeds are used to being under the football spotlight, be it financial freefall, their infamous dirty play, or the intense loyalty of their city-wide fanbase. Their proud fighting spirit sets them apart and they will be plotting their legacy akin to their rival Sheffield United’s success. With a lack of European tournaments, Bielsa’s powerful ‘murderball’ – enviable energy, brutal work-rate and non-stop running – will make Leeds players the perfect choice for a high scoring Fantasy Premier League season. Although fresh signings are required, they have a strong core of players who are more than capable of rising to the challenge.
Tyler Roberts – Attacking midfielder
The 21-year-old has the versatility to adapt to the wing or as a centre-forward, and he’s found his feet this season with his precise and clinical ability in the final third. His star quality was most evident in his MOTM performance against Hull, just before lockdown, where Roberts came on as a 67th minute substitute for striker Patrick Bamford and scored the last two winning goals.
However, Leeds have suffered with injuries and Roberts is no exception to this. Bielsa will be keen to adapt his ‘murderball’ technique to ensure key players like Roberts can thrive in the top-flight without the threat of injury.
In terms of goal-scoring, Leeds can’t rely on Bamford’s clinical ability, with a shocking 33 chances missed this season, and more shots off target than any player in the Championship since 2012. Therefore, they need to buy a strong striker who can translate the team’s high chance turnover.
Until this happens however, Bielsa could allow Roberts to step in as the main striker while swapping Bamford for the attacking midfielder position.
Pablo Hernandez – Attacking midfielder
Most non-Leeds fans will be familiar with the magician Pablo, or as ex-Leeds translator Salim Lamrani hails him, “the brain” of the team. Pablo is Leeds’s play-making answer to Santi Cazorla or David Silva.
At 35 years of age, Pablo may not feature much when Leeds return to the Premier League. But, there is no denying his winning form and fitness, as ‘Player of the Year’ Pablo has the highest points-per-game average of any Championship player to have played 1500+ minutes this season. He’s a main reason for Leeds’s promotion, creating the most chances per game (2.3) and generating the second most chances for the club (82) after Jack Harrison (87). His influence on Leeds is undeniable, and finding his replacement will be tricky.
No Pablo, no party.
Mateusz Klich – Midfielder
Klich works tirelessly for the team, having played a whopping 45 out of 46 games this season with 92 consecutive games under his belt. Rumour has it he missed his only game of the season – the guard of honour Derby game – with a hangover. In fact, Leeds Managing Director Angus Kinnear wrote in his programme notes ahead of the final game against Charlton: “We should all be very grateful that Klich can play football better than he can drink.”
With his insane track-record, not only is he destined to start every game next season, but the midfielder is effortless in his ability to perform highly amongst defensive figures. With 254 ball recoveries, 178 duels won, and the third-most tackles won per game for Leeds this season, Klich epitomises a true Leeds warrior and is integral to the Bielsa’s ‘murderball’ system. Only tricky-Pablo made more passes in the final third than Klich.
Not only has Klich proven his success at Leeds, but Poland boss Jerzy Brzęczek awarded him with a call-up to the national team after a four-year exile.
Klich is definitely one-to-watch in the Premier League next season.
Kalvin Phillips – Defensive midfielder
The Leeds-born midfielder has been the glue that binds the team with his dominating performances and merciless style of play. Kalvin is Bielsa’s second-best success story, after the promotion of course, as the most improved player at the club.
Before Bielsa’s arrival, Kalvin was a lost puppy with more errors in him than sense – it was hard to the midfielder going far. However, with Bielsa’s man-management, Kalvin has transformed into a fantastic defensive midfielder, integral for promotion with his key ability to win the ball back and provide for Leeds’ creative and attacking players.
Kalvin will be desperate to prove his ability in the Premier League. If he succeeds, he has a chance for a place in the England set-up, especially as a central-defensive midfielder, where the national side is currently lacking. Ultimately, Kalvin is Leeds through and through, and some view him as their key to future success.
Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas – Full backs
Last season, Leeds had the most clean sheets (22) and the least goals conceded (35) in the Championship. To maintain this excellent defensive record in the Premier League, Leeds full-backs Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas will have their hands full coming up against the likes of Sadio Mane, Raheem Sterling and Adama Traore.
Offensively, Dallas has created 43 chances in 45 appearances, with Ayling managing a close 29 in 37. It seems however that Ayling edges it as the stand-out full-back due to his leadership, ‘big-game player’ persona and effective versatility – providing both vital goals and assists.
A fan-favourite, Ayling has led the team through difficult moments in the year, notably confronting the camera after the Nottingham Forest 2-0 defeat. Not only does it seem Ayling is destined to become a future Leeds captain, but he brings a package of talent suitable for the Premier League.
Leeds United – a new dawn
Whatever your opinion on Leeds United as a football club, there’s no denying their seat at the top table has been vacant for too long, and with Bielsa at the helm, football fans will be eager to see how The Peacocks faire next season.