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What has Gone Wrong at Leeds this Season? Can they Survive Relegation?

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What has Gone Wrong at Leeds this Season? Can they Survive Relegation?

“We have had our ups and downs”. These are lyrics from Marching on Together that boom around Elland Road just before the players come from the tunnel.

Two years ago it was the up as the Whites eased their way to the Championship title. This year it could be a down as the side is in a battle with Burnley and Everton to survive in the Premier League for another year. Let’s look at how it has gone so wrong from last year's ninth-placed finish.

Leeds’s Recruitment Last Summer & the end of Bielsa’s Reign

Any team who has a great season knows that they can’t sit on their laurels and hope that next year will be the same. The Premier League doesn’t take kindly to teams that do this. The arrival of Junior Firpo from Barcelona and Dan James from Manchester United added depth to positions which weren’t crying for reinforcements.

No Central midfielder, for a team who hasn’t bought one since Adam Foreshaw’s arrival in 2018. No striker for a team over-reliant on Patrick Bamford, a presumed Premier League flop whose 17 goals last season got him a place in the England squad.

Marcelo Bielsa is synonymous for having a small group of players, ones that he can nurture and grow. Leeds had flourished under this system so from the board's point of view, why change a system if it isn’t broken.

By February 2022, the system had collapsed. Bielsa can’t be blamed for the ridiculous amount of injuries Leeds suffered. Kalvin Phillips out for four months, Liam Cooper out for four months and Patrick Bamford have played just nine games all season.

Any team that has the spine of the team out will of course have a dip in performances and results. With a lack of quality replacements at Leeds United, the dip most teams would have suffered turned into a full-blown collapse.

In games where any other team would have changed their system and shut up shop, Bielsa’s Leeds continued with their man to man marking and attacking football. The goals had now dried up, and conceding 20 goals in five games was too much to ignore. Leeds were heading in only one direction, and a 4-0 defeat at home to Spurs was the final nail in Bielsa’s coffin.

El loco was gone. The board's gamble had massively backfired. A quick replacement was soon in the door at Thorpe Arch, as former RB Leipzig and RB Salzburg manager, Jesse Marsch, took charge at the Yorkshire club.

Premier League Relegation Tips

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Leeds United to be Relegated (2021/22 Season) @ 8/11

Leeds Under Marsch

Marsch still had the attacking football the devoted fans at Elland Road loved and now demanded, but the lack of man-marking, with his gegenpressing seen as less hectic and a way of stopping the bombardment of Illan Meslier’s goal.

Results started to turn around and after Leeds's 3-0 victory over Watford on April 9th, the Whites were eight points clear of the relegation zone with six games to go.

Flash forward to the 18th of May and Leeds is one point clear of the relegation zone. Burnley’s transformation in form since Mike Jackson became manager leaves the Clarets’ one point behind with a game in hand. Frank Lampard’s Everton sits one point ahead also with a game in hand.

Whilst Leeds have had a hard run, with games against three of the top five, the pressure does seem to have rooted itself in the Leeds squad. Luke Ayling’s two-footed challenge at the Emirates Stadium and Dan James' high tackle against Chelsea gave Leeds no chance in these games where they would have had to be perfect to get any result.

A desire to stay in the Premier League is alive at Elland Road, highlighted through Pascal Struijk’s equaliser in the 92nd minute against Brighton to lift Leeds outside the bottom three.

Leeds and their fans know however by 4 PM on Sunday, they could be in the relegation zone and fate being out of their hands. Burnley needs just a point at Villa Park on Thursday to climb above Leeds. Everton will be safe if they win at home to Crystal Palace too.

Marsch knows that his side needs to go and win at the Brentford Community Stadium on Sunday. Whether that will be enough, time will tell but the Leeds faithful will stand by their team until the world stops going around.