Ahead of the new season, we look at Leeds' strengths, weaknesses and what the targets will be for boss Marcelo Bielsa…
Friday 11 September 2020 10:19, UK
Leeds United are back in the Premier League after a 16-year absence and Marcelo Bielsa's exciting side are not here just to make up the numbers.
Leeds finally returned to the top flight after winning last season's Championship, 12 months on from their heart-breaking defeat to Derby County in the semi-finals of the play-offs had made it seem like the club would never make it back to the big time.
And in the wily Bielsa, Leeds have an experienced and tactically astute manager who will ensure his side consistently punch well above their weight next season, as seen when they ran Arsenal close in last season's FA Cup third-round tie at the Emirates.
That theory, though, will be immediately put to the test in their season opener at champions Liverpool.
However, with Man City's England U21 international Jack Harrison returning to Elland Road on loan next season and Spain forward Rodrigo joining the club in a £27m deal, do not expect Leeds to be in a relegation fight come next May.
It cannot be overlooked that the suspension of the Championship back in March following the coronavirus outbreak helped play into the hands of Leeds a little. There is a feeling, looking back on Bielsa's career, that his relentless demands tend to lead to burnout among his squad towards the end of the season, so a three-month break to recover before the run-in can't have hurt.
In fact, a refreshed and revitalised Leeds went on to win eight of their final nine league games after returning to action in June to claim the title by 10 points from West Bromwich Albion, in stark comparison to the previous campaign when they lost five of their final nine matches to slip out of the top two.
As a result, they come into this Premier League season brimming with confidence, energy and belief.
Jack Harrison - Man City, loan
Joe Gelhardt - Wigan, undisclosed
Illan Meslier - Lorient, undisclosed
Helder Costa - Wolves, £16m
Charlie Allen - Linfield, undisclosed
Cody Drameh - Fulham, undisclosed
Rodrigo - Valencia, £27m
Robin Koch - Freiburg, undisclosed
Sam Greenwood - Arsenal, undisclosed
Bielsa's side scored fewer goals than runners-up West Bromwich Albion - but their watertight defence was the bedrock for their dominant finish.
They'll have to do without Ben White, who, after a standout season, has signed a new deal with parent club Brighton. But Illan Meslier replaced suspended Kiko Casilla in goal for 10 of the final 11 league games with incredible success - keeping seven clean sheets and conceding only five goals, with a staggering save percentage of 83.3 per cent.
One area Leeds will need to improve is capitalising on chances in front of goal, which are inevitably going to be harder to come by in the top flight.
The Whites ranked bottom of the Championship for converting clear-cut opportunities last season, having converted only 36 of their 125 big chances - that's a mere 29 per cent success rate.
That wastefulness is epitomised with xG data: Leeds should have scored 11 more goals during the campaign - the worst differential in the division.
"I will be working the next season at Leeds United," said Bielsa at a news conference ahead of Saturday's trip to Liverpool.
"Everything has been sorted and it is definite that I will be here next season."
Bielsa said the trip to Anfield to face Jurgen Klopp's champions would be "a very special game".
"They are one of the best teams in the world, with a fine system and very good players," said the Argentinian.
"It's difficult to say how our players are going to adjust to the Premier League. We have prepared for this, but we need to show it on the pitch."
Bielsa said that he will not be changing his team's style of play following promotion.
"To begin with we will try to play the same way," he added.
Nicknamed 'El Mago,' the Wizard, even when not at his best, Pablo Hernandez can conjure up a trick to win Leeds the match. From a piece of brilliance against Bristol City on the opening day of last season, to the dying embers of the match at Swansea to all but wrap up the Championship title.
At 35, the Spaniard's game time could be limited under Bielsa in the Premier League, but there is no denying the playmaker could be the star man to unlock Premier League defences when Leeds may need him most.
Leeds have splashed out a club-record £27m to bring Rodrigo to Elland Road on a four-year deal, with the highly-rated Spain international sure to bolster the club's attacking options this season.
Forget Rodrigo's previous experience in the Premier League when the 29-year-old managed just one goal in 17 appearances while on a season-long loan at Bolton Wanderers 10 years ago.
Since then, the Brazil-born forward has scored an impressive 59 times in 220 games for Valencia after joining the La Liga club from Benfica in 2014, initially on loan.
So much so that the player was included in Luis Enrique's recent Spain squad for their UEFA Nations League fixtures against Germany and Ukraine.
Double figures for goals for the new recruit this campaign? There is more than a good chance...
Usually for newly promoted clubs, success means simply staying in the Premier League. However, there is no way Bielsa will be setting his sights that low, especially after the club has waited so long to get back in the top flight of English football.
And while Leeds may not have added too many new players this summer, the ones they have brought in - especially Harrison and Rodrigo - should see them avoid any relegation worries.
All of which means a mid-table finish, or just below, with a few big wins thrown in, should be well within the grasp of a team managed by the canny Argentine, 'El Loco'.