How Will Leeds Fare in the Premier League?

15 years of pain

No less than 15 years have passed since Leeds United last experienced Premier League football.

It has been a very difficult period of time for the Yorkshire side. A 19th-placed finish in the 2004/05 season threw them into the second tier for the first time since 1990, and three seasons later, the club were relegated from Championship in 2007 to League On - the lowest the club has ever been in the Football League.

A three-year stay in League One would follow, but a promotion in in 2010/11 has kept them in the second-flight ever since, with a narrow play-off miss coming in just their first season by finishing seventh.

Six bottom half finishes would come in the next eight seasons, but it seems that this year everything is clicking for Marcelo Bielsa's men, who lost the play-off semi-finals last campaign.

With this gargantuan club finally on a potential return to the Premier League, how will they fare back amongst the big dogs?

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Bielsa has the key

One thing that has arguably hindered Leeds' progress is the constant change of managers. Prior to Marcelo Bielsa's appointment in June 2018, the club went through seven different managers in three and a half years. Bielsa has steadied the ship and his third-placed finish last year is the Whites' highest placing in the 16 years since their Premier League relegation and he is on course to send the club back to the big time this season.

The one time European Cup winners are currently top of the Championship and are six points clear of third-placed Brentford. With six games of the season remaining, promotion is in their hands and could be secured as early as 12th July.

As is the case with every newly promoted side in the Premier League, the priority for that club is to battle bravely against relegation in an attempt to stay in the division before aiming to progress. However, they can take inspiration from fellow Yorkshire side Sheffield United.

The Blades have had an excellent season where they have been pushing for Europe but their current form has seen them gradually slip out of the running for European football but have nearly guaranteed themselves Premier League survival with plenty of time to spare without being embroiled in a dogfight at the bottom.

An upgrade in strikers is needed

One thing that is certainly in Leeds' favour is that they have an excellent manager who is in a good position to take the club forward. Bielsa has had experience at several big teams including the Argentina and Chile national sides.

In terms of club football, he had a successful spell as manager of Athletic Bilbao where he was the runners-up in the Europa League and Copa del Rey in the 2011/12 season. He also managed to get the best out of players like Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente who both went on to have successful careers.

Leeds can achieve Premier League survival with ease because a lot of the framework currently in place at Elland Road suggests that they are ready to battle it out in the top flight. One area of some concern, however, is the need for a proven top-flight striker. Patrick Bamford has had a good season in front of goal with 14 league goals but the next highest scorers at the club are midfielders Jack Harrison and the veteran Pablo Hernandez with six.

The strikers in the squad, apart from Bamford, have been misfiring and would thus really struggle in the Premier League so it would be dangerous if they persevere with Ezgjan Alioski as a second choice striker.

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Buy, buy, buy

Predicting how a club ends up in their debut Premier League season is worthless, as it is so tough to do. Nobody expected a Champions League battle from Sheffield United, whilst Wolves are all but Europa League regulars, just six seasons after they were plying their trade in League One.

On the other hand, clubs like Norwich City and Fulham tend to yo-yo between the two top tiers and even gargantuan sides like West Ham United and Newcastle United are never safe.

Should the Whites achieve promotion to the Premier League next season, their potential safety could be dependent on their activity in the summer transfer window. Defensively they have been impressive having only conceded 33 league goals, making them the joint best defence in the league. Young defender Ben White, at 22 years of age, has performed really well and Bielsa might wish to make his loan move a permanent one from Brighton in the summer.

However, Leeds' defence does not some attention in the transfer window considering the great lack of Premier League experience in their backline. Liam Cooper is their only defender who has had any experience of the top flight, clocking up only 125 minutes of game time for Hull City back in the 2009/10 season.

To conclude, Leeds are in a good place to be good competitors in next season's Premier League. Promotion back to the big time is something they have been working towards in the past few years and, since Bielsa's arrival at Elland Road, they have found themselves at the right at end of the Championship table. With some good work in the transfer market, they could even be capable of recording a comfortable mid-table finish and, in just a few years time, could become an established Premier League side for the first time since the early 2000s.

By Rob Spereall

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