How to help Leeds survive the drop

Stanley Steamer

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Ok, I have a problem from which most do not suffer. I support Leeds United. There's no point in asking why, it really doesn't matter. I thought about starting a team thread, as I had done last year, but nobody really cares so I let it go. Now I need help.

As most of you know, Leeds, one of "the bigger clubs in England" (insert sardonic laugh), was promoted in 2020 after a 16 year absence from the EPL's top flight. Under the famous Marcelo Bielsa's tutelage, they finished an impressive 9th place in their first season back, and most pundits felt their position in mid-table was secure this year. Admittedly, I wasn't so sure. This season has played out in an almost nightmarish fashion. Bielsa's tactics demand outrunning and harrying the opponent, yet he likes to keep a small squad that he trusts, rarely changing players, and certainly not tactics. They only picked up the thus-far ineffectual Junior Firpo, and the lowest effort:goals rated Daniel James in the off season. They needed MF help, and to be fair, the return of Adam Forshaw from a long period off has been a small boon, but they lack talent after Phillips in the center of the park.

They really haven't played well at all this season, just brief glimpses of their former selves. They don't seem to have that same endurance, running out of steam and ideas later in games. Other managers know what to expect. They started with a half Championship, half EPL squad, and have lost Bamford, Ayling, Koch, Rodrigo, Phillips, Cooper and more in recent weeks and months. They are not in the relegation places at the moment, and are going through the hardest part of their schedule as we speak, but have been badly found out in recent weeks. They should've got a point at Chelsea, but were thrashed by Man City and toyed with by Arsenal. Worse, they were lucky to even get draws with Brentford at home and Brighton away. They don't look like a favorite to beat anyone at the moment. Right now, their best hope is that there may be three teams still worse than them, at least over the course of the season.

I will attach a recent article from the excellent Phil Hay, for Athletic subscribers:

https://theathletic.com/3024299/2021/12/19/leeds-are-not-coping/

It's an important season for the club. The owner, Andrea Radrizzani, is trying to sell majority control to the SF 49ers group. This might open a revenue stream that, while not on par with oil states and barons, could at least serve to consolidate the club's fortunes for a little while. But if Leeds were to get relegated again, I'm guessing that might not seem like such a good investment to the Americans.

So essentially what I'm asking is what do you think Leeds needs to do to stay up? They have 16 points from 18 games, and Newcastle is bound to improve significantly in January. They are missing Bamford hugely, but do have young Joe Gelhardt not far from contributing regularly. They aren't bereft on the wings. Raphinha is their one true star at the moment, but won't be with United forever. Phillips likewise, and he's out until February. They appear to need much more attacking MF play, maybe more at CDM, and they still don't have enough FB depth. Can they really improve in January in a meaningful fashion? In today's EPL can they play more of their relatively strong U23 squad? Both will be attempted, but neither offers much assurance.

The season is long, and there is plenty of time to pick up points. However, one can't show other teams for long that you are weak, and there for the picking, without it becoming a recurring problem. Which brings out the most difficult question. When, and under what circumstances, would the team choose to walk away from Bielsa? He is effectively a god among most supporters, and deserves to be treated with the utmost respect. Yet his track record speaks for itself, and one at least wonders if he, with his tactical inflexibility, is the right man to keep this club up. I don't see it happening this year, unless it's too late.

So, since new threads are good, I thought I'd throw out a bone for you to sniff and perhaps chew on.
 

Dummy Hoy

Angry Pissbum
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Jul 22, 2006
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Injuries and a lack of depth are your problems.

Bielsa is a thing- you accept all of the good that comes with it but recognize the limitatiions. He's not going to sign anyone that doesn't fit the profile he wants, thus the depth problem. I think the tactical inflexibility is a bit overrated, but you're never going to get a pragmatist with Bielsa, which is awesome, though risky at times.

I think you'll stay out of the hole enough that once you get players back fit, you'll be safe. I do wonder if Bielsa leaves on his own accord though; this has been his longest spell at a club. He seems comfortable, but one never knows. He's also just as likely to leave in January if the board doesn't sign a player he likes.

I hate that Bielsa has made me root for Leeds.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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Injuries have been killers but squad planning seems subpar, especially at the striker and CDM positions, which seem like the real killers right now. Going into the season without a real backup for Bamford was reckless - Gelhardt looks like a good prospect but you can't ask a kid just getting his feet wet for the first time to be your starting striker every week for an extended run. Phillips also seems really critical to the way Leeds play given how often they're pushing 6-7 players into attack, so you really need somebody who can do at least an imitation. The number of times Martin Odegaard picked up the ball in midfield and just had free reign to run at the Leeds backline was wild last weekend.

I think Leeds will manage to stay up but it will be too close for comfort. You'll get healthy eventually and Bielsa's high variance style combined with some genuine attacking talent means you'll win at least 5-6 matches in the second half and find a way to get to 35-40 points, which will be enough.
 

OCST

Sunny von Bulow
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Jan 10, 2004
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Co-sign these.

loved watching Leeds, hated playing them, they were the side no one ever wanted to play. Reminded me of Air Coryell, or Nolan Richardson’s “40 minutes of hell”- never sitting back, always on the front foot, always wanting to run and play football even with the best sides- I was blown away when they went into Anfield in their first game up, had a go, and lost 4-3.

playing that way game in and game out over time needs more depth than they have. Missing Bamford has been bad but Phillips is really the beating heart of that side and they more or less ran him into the ground.

If they had 3-4 more good depth pieces they’d definitely be safe and threaten for the Europe spots. As it is I think they have enough unless MBS buys Mbappe and Salah.
 

Stanley Steamer

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I just keep looking at the table, wondering who will finish below them. Norwich and Watford possibly. I'd say Newcastle, were it not for the upcoming investment. Burnley looks better than their point total this far.
All to play for.
 

Royal Reader

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I just hope it doesn't end up being all of Watford, Burnley, Norwich for the drop, which would be the maximally boring outcome. Southampton would be a wildcard - I would neither be surprised to see them drop, or go on a run of form and end up 8th.
 

rguilmar

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Is this a good move for Marsch?!
On the surface, it looks like it could be, but time will tell. Leeds as currently constructed (from the few games I’ve seen) look like they can play Marsch’s preferred style. Leeds are probably hoping that similar tactics but a new voice will get the job done.
Of course, if they’re relegated, then it probably was a bad move.
 

Stanley Steamer

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I'm sad to see Bielsa go out like this, but I agree it had to be done. His tactical inflexibility made it obvious that nothing was going to change, and Leeds have clearly been the worst team in the league since the start of the year. I don't know much about Marsch, but it's so late in the season, it's hard to know if there's adequate time to turn such woeful form around. Getting Philips back will be huge, but I haven't heard much promising news about Bamford lately.
Whether they manage to stay up or not, the club will always be indebted to Marcelo, and I'm sure will memorialize him somehow.
 

SocrManiac

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Is there a more anti-Mourinho manager in existence today? Bielsa doesn't turtle against top teams, he doesn't throw anybody under the bus, and he seemed respectful in every interview I ever saw.
 

67YAZ

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Huge opportunity & even larger challenge for Marsch. It’s a good fit talent-wise - I can see how the Leeds team can fit into the fast transitions, hard pressing style Marsch learned in the RB system. But like others have said, getting Phillips and Bamford back and in form are essential. Absent that, might not matter who is sitting in the bucket.


The bottom of the table is such a cluster and the two clubs right behind Leeds - Everton & Burnley - both have 2 games in hand.
 

OCST

Sunny von Bulow
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Jan 10, 2004
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I agree that Bielsa had to go and it's awful for him and Leeds fans.

They just don't have the horses this year to play that style, and they just can't stop anyone. Everton - who will be in the drop zone if Burnley get anything today - shredded Leeds to pieces. 3-0 and it could have been much worse. Everton had freedom of the middle of the park. 21 shots for Everton, 10 on target. Leeds did hit the woodwork 2x from distance but Pickford didn't have to make a save.

I don't know if the players can switch gears but I think if I'm a Leeds defender or defensive-responsible midfielder I'm grateful to play a style that lets me focus on my main job.
 

OCST

Sunny von Bulow
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Jan 10, 2004
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Is there a more anti-Mourinho manager in existence today? Bielsa doesn't turtle against top teams, he doesn't throw anybody under the bus, and he seemed respectful in every interview I ever saw.
Agree.

I know. He is a true gentleman and a humble servant to the game.
And this too.

As a fan of a team in their weight class I know the issues.

One, their best XI can beat anyone on their day, and their talisman players are good enough to play for big sides, but the squad has no depth. So when the inevitable wave of injuries hit, they are more like a 15th-18th place side than the 4th-7th they could be if everything broke right over the season.

Two, the managers tend to be one-trick ponies and not to have the nous and flexibility to adjust when they need Plan B. Every manager that Everton has cycled through has had one and only one way to play, except Carlo who had some adaptability but is an all-time great. Dyche - who made Europa, don't forget - and Bielsa could not be more different, other than their integrity and the respect they command from players and fans, but you could hold a gun to each's head, take away the three players that enable their style the most, and tell them they had to play like the other and they couldn't do it.
 

Dummy Hoy

Angry Pissbum
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Jul 22, 2006
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I think this is a terrible mistake by Leeds. Clubs do so much stupid shit to avoid relegation, which is understandable given the money involved, but football has to be about more than that.

I would have taken relegation for the chance to keep Bielsa, no hesitation. Dude turned a bunch of mediocre to solid 2nd tier players and make a mid-table premier league squad that played fun football every game. He gets no fiscal support from the boardroom but he never complains even when down his leading scorer, his midefield engine and his CB pair. He doesn't blame the club, he doesn't blame the refs, he doesn't blame the players. He's ingratiated himself with this club, with this community in a way that few managers ever do. He's completely transformed this club head to toe, putting more of himself into it than any other club he has managed, and he gets dumped because he got lit up a couple of times by talented clubs in a season when injuries and a lack of depth (neither Bielsa's fault) have caused the club to struggle.

It's been challenging for me to root for Leeds the last few seasons, but when someone comes along with a nearly unmatched combination of intellect and integrity and a committment to playing exciting and enjoyable football, it's impossible not to be a fan. I'm excited to get back to hating on L**ds, but my heart aches for the loss that some of their fans must be feeling. Hopefully they can take solace in the joy they had from the chance to walk alonside a truly special human.
 

JimD

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https://theathletic.com/3180063/2022/03/14/leeds-united-bloody-hell/
The title says it all. Three vital points, but whether we stay up or go down, it's going to be ugly.
Hays is a great writer, really enjoy his stuff.

I'm the most casual type of American sports fan periodically checking in on English football, so maybe I'm missing something that's blindingly obvious, but I don't get why a club like Leeds that desperately needs a spark isn't giving Gelhardt more run right now.
 

Stanley Steamer

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Hays is a great writer, really enjoy his stuff.

I'm the most casual type of American sports fan periodically checking in on English football, so maybe I'm missing something that's blindingly obvious, but I don't get why a club like Leeds that desperately needs a spark isn't giving Gelhardt more run right now.
It's a good question, particularly when Bamford was out for so long. He's been impactful on a few occasions as a sub, but some of his starts, less so. He's young and a bit small. I suspect Bielsa doubted he was physically ready for the demands of regular games. There can be little doubt that he has a nose for the goal.
 

67YAZ

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This is right - Gelhardt is best as a super sub right now, that late spark to ignite a goal. I don’t think he has the defensive nous yet to do whag Marsch needs above all else: don’t concede.

News is that Phillips is eying an early-April return. That will be huge.

Edit: To finish the thought, Phillips is tailor made for Marsch’s quick vertical counterattack system. He’ll bring more steel to the defense and progress the ball quickly.
 
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Stanley Steamer

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Big 3 points for the Whites today over fellow strugglers Watford. They certainly didn't look great, but are definitely more solid defensively, earning their first clean sheet of the year. They now have a 9 point gap over Burnley in 18th, 5 over Everton in 17th, albeit having played more games. They likely will need it, as their run-in looks challenging. It's hard to say how good a manager Marsch is tactically, but as a cheerleader and man-manager he's been great. Rodrigo in particular looks happy and unburdened, and he is producing goals at long last. Survival isn't assured, but it's starting to look likely.
A quick mention about Neil Warnock, who retired from coaching today after more than 1500 games. He only coached Leeds briefly, and I wouldn't say he was well loved; nevertheless it is a pretty impressive record. Who's next, Big Sam?
 

Jimy Hendrix

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Ayling’s mistake honestly worse that Meslier’s, given the implications for the whole rest of the season.
 

Senator Donut

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Brentford/Leeds might have had a crazier five minutes than City

77’ Ajer injured, Brentford down to 10
78’ Sergi Canós equalizes!
79’ Sergi Canós booked for taking off his shirt
80’ Sergi Canós sent off, Brentford down to 9
 

DJnVa

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First team in 10 or 11 seasons to enter the final day in relegation zone and survive.