The Big Match Preview – Leeds United (A)

With the beginning of the season just around the corner, the reality of being back in the second tier is really kicking in, and there is no better way to start than facing the team we should least aspire to be like. There can be no doubt that the Championship is one of the hardest leagues to predict in the world and has been like quicksand to so many relegated Premier League clubs, although few have struggled as much as Leeds who were sucked straight in and have struggled to escape since.

Champions League semi-finalists in 2001 and relegated from the Premier League in 2004, their decline over the past two decades has included a three season spell in League One, numerous financial difficulties and no fewer than 19 different managers. Although none of those carry the reputation of the current boss, Marcelo Bielsa.

The man famous for pioneering the 3-3-3-1 formation and boasting the likes of Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone amongst his students, it was an unbelievable coup for Leeds to lure the Argentine to Yorkshire in June and one that the rest of the Championship should certainly not underestimate.

However, there is also the potential for the appointment to blow up in the club’s face once again, Bielsa’s fiery temperament is almost as legendary as his tactical innovations, an issue which has seen him leave his last three clubs rather acrimoniously. He left Marseille after constant fall outs with the clubs hierarchy, left Lazio after just two days, prompting a €50 million lawsuit and left Lille last year after alienating a large chunk of his squad before a ball was kicked and being suspended as coach after 13 games.

As everyone is for the first few games of the season, Leeds are largely an unknown quantity. Kemar Roofe was last seasons top goalscorer with 14 goals, whilst the role of creator was shared between Spaniards Samu Saiz and Pablo Hernandez who contributed 34 goals and assists between them. Goals were an issue though, only Roofe and the now departed Pierre-Michel Lasogga managed to get into double figures, with the goalscoring burden now falling upon recent recruit Patrick Bamford’s shoulders after being deemed surplus to requirements at Middlesbrough.

Preseason is often not a very good indicator when it comes to real season results and systems and Leeds’ shall be no different. Their most notable opposition came in the form of Las Palmas, recently relegated from La Liga, with their only other victories coming against Forest Green and Guiseley.

Although it is impossible to predict the best way to approach this game, a very safe assumption would be that a high press would cause Leeds significant issues in midfield, as it would for most teams. Pressing from the front would test the ability of the defenders and midfielders under pressure, forcing mistakes to seize upon and counter, as well as creating unrest in a notoriously expectant and fickle fanbase.

Also, as the favourites of many it is essential that we play to our strengths, rather than adapt to the opposition as we had to in the Premier League. Therefore, using the strong right side of Tom Ince and Moritz Bauer, as well as a supporting midfielder and/or a number 10 will be a key component to winning our first game back in the second tier in a decade, as well as escaping at the first time of asking.

Written by George Eltringham

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