Do Leeds United Need to Strengthen to Avoid Being the Next Sheffield United?
Promoted Leeds United have become the great entertainers of this Premier League season, with matches involving the Whites seeing a historic number of combined goals for a newly-promoted side. Despite a gappy defence Leeds have been scintillating going forward, and look like they’ve more or less secured safety in their first season back in the top flight after a long 16 years away.
Bookmakers even see them as having loftier ambitions beyond staying up, sitting at 7/2 in the Premier League betting markets to sneak into the top half of the table but now they must avoid emulating a Yorkshire neighbour who fell off dramatically in their second top-flight season.
Sheffield United became everyone's second team last year by pulling off upset wins over several ‘Big Six’ teams on their way to a 9th place finish in their first season in the Premier League. But their second season has been a catastrophe both on and off the pitch, reaching its nadir with the sacking of Chris Wilder in March with the club rooted to the bottom of the league table.
Many Blades fans point to a lack of investment in the transfer market, and a failure of the few signings they did make, as a big reason for their precipitous fall in form in their second Premier League season. Lys Mousset, Oli McBurnie, Oliver Burke and Rhian Brewster cost almost £50 million between them, but have only contributed two league goals so far, this campaign.
ðŸŽ¨ An artist at work! pic.twitter.com/M8feKP6Bo4— Leeds United (@LUFC) February 9, 2021
Raphinha has been electrifying in the Premier League this season
Leeds dipped into the transfer market over the summer with a small number of big-money signings, including club-record addition Spain international Rodrigo for £27 million and many fans’ presumptive Player of the Year so far, Brazilian winger Raphinha at only £17 million. Meanwhile, Diego Llorente and Robin Koch were brought in to provide depth and competition in the centre-back position following the return of Ben White to parent club Brighton.
But all four have struggled with injuries this season and at times Marcelo Bielsa’s team have excited and thrilled Premier League audiences with only the squad that won the Championship last season, which itself was the same squad that once finished 13th in the league before the Argentinian took over
So which positions in the squad most need strengthening?
Much has been made of a Leeds defence that concedes as regularly as the attackers score and is especially vulnerable from set-pieces. Although this may shore up when Koch and Llorente are fit enough to partner in the centre of defence, surely one of the focuses will be at the back. This includes at goalkeeper, where an experienced set of hands like Sergio Romero could be a veteran backup and positive influence on young goalie Illan Meslier.
Likewise, the adaptable Stuart Dallas has deputised admirably at left-back, but has also played well in the centre of midfield, and could play there more permanently if a left-footed defender like Newcastle’s Jamal Lewis were available. This could depend on how director of football Victor Orta works with Bielsa on midfield options – if much-touted target Rodrigo de Paul could be landed from Udinese, where would Dallas fit into this Leeds side next season?