So, despite all the promise and the fabulous football we played at times this season, we ended up with a third place finish and dumped out of the Play-Offs by Frank Lampard’s Derby.
A shambolic second leg saw us go 2 goals up in the tie, only to go out 3 – 4 on aggregate having given Derby goals thanks to a defensive cock-up, a penalty and a one man advantage for the final crucial part of the game. How did it all come to this?
Well, for me, we go right back to last season, a season when we again played some decent football before Christmas, got ourselves comfortably into the Play-Off places with 39 points and then gradually saw it all unravel in the second half of the season adding only 21 more, to end the season in a disappointing 13th place.
We all concluded that Heckingbottom wasn’t the man to take us forward but also that we needed “four or five positions strengthened” as Marcelo would eventually tell us. That’s four or five new players better than we already had.
We secured Marcelo Bielsa in time for pre-season and he very quickly whittled down his available squad to 15 or so players he considered were good enough for the Championship campaign and, over time we saw an impressive improvement in the existing players we retained and certainly in their fitness although the failings we all know they have were always likely to resurface.
But what of the players we brought in to supposedly strengthen that squad? In came Lewis Baker, Jamal Blackman, Barry Douglas, Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford and Izzy Brown.
In hindsight that was a motley crew that has not actually given us much at all! Lewis Baker started two games and then eventually was recalled by Chelsea and farmed out to Reading in the hope of finding him some game time; he clearly didn’t register on Bielsa’s quality scale.
Jamal Blackman was unlucky; just when it looked like he’d win the number 1 shirt he broke a leg and also went back to his parent club. Barry Douglas? Well, he featured regularly until injury struck him down but the general consensus was that he was not the same Barry Douglas who flew down the wing for Wolves the previous season.
Jack Harrison? He amassed 34 starts this season and played in every one of the 25 games played since Christmas.
Once again though, I doubt he has come up to the exacting specifications laid down by Marcelo and with Marcelo proclaiming that Daniel James would have been the boost we needed to make automatic promotion, I guess that tells us all we need to know about Jack.
Patrick Bamford is a conundrum; in between injuries he weighed in with 9 goals in 18 starts and a few sub appearances but I’d say he missed twice as many as he scored and good chances at that.
Against Reading the Royals fans pleaded with us to “Give it to Bamford” so poor was his shooting that night. Against Derby at Elland Road last week he was dreadful too and mentally didn’t seem to have the right head on as he continued to barge and foul his way through the game despite being on a yellow card. Izzy Brown? I’ll say no more.
We added Kiko Casilla in January of course and, for a time, he looked to have settled in to the Championship and we hardly thought about the goalkeeping position until that moment at Ipswich…
since then we’ve thought about little else!
All in all we have to admit that the acquisitions we made this season were not good enough; that meant that in essence Marcelo was battling through this season with pretty much the same squad, with the same limitations that showed it wasn’t quite up to the task last season and, despite an obvious improvement in the style of play and the fitness, those same old issues with those players were still in there, likely to show themselves any moment.
Liam Cooper had a good season, but every now and again we know he’ll have “a moment” and sadly we saw it in our most crucial game of the season.
Gaetano, bless him, is always likely to do something rash and we saw that too. Alioski was an almost ever present until his injury but boy does he stray offside a lot and does he waste some crosses.
Pontus is mostly reliable but he turns like an oil tanker and can get caught out.
We also lost a couple of our what I considered were amongst our better players too: Ronnie Vieira was certain to have played a big part for Marcelo had he remained and Samu Sáiz too was a big miss in my estimation.
To have got this squad to the level they’ve achieved is a miracle and Bielsa should be very proud of that, but ultimately our recruitment failed him, and, if we look at the vast number of players we have recruited in the last couple of seasons, most have not broken into the regular first XI and have since been moved on – more than 20 players were shipped out following the end of last season for example.
We are almost back where we started 12 months ago in terms of the squad, almost but not quite. Bielsa has made a huge difference and that’s why we were competing with the top six and not the mid-table also rans this season.
We have a defined style of play, tremendous organisation on the pitch and a core of decent Championship players. But we now need to add to the group with real quality for once.
If we can retain Marcelo, retain the best of our current players, add in the 4 or 5 that we didn’t manage to find this time last year, then we’ll have a chance.
By David Watkins
Keith Ingham gives us his final diary of a Leeds fan for what has been a season of so many highs and lows. WALL would like to thank him for his tireless efforts during the season to make sure we were updated with footballing news not just from LS11, but around the world.
Remembering the 56 people who died in the Bradford City fire.
34 years ago today.
Aston Villa come from a goal down to beat West Brom 2-1 in their Playoff Semi Final First Leg at Villa Park. West Brom’s goal scorer Dwight Gayle was later sent off for two bookable offences.
Playoff Semi Final. 1st Leg
Derby County v Leeds
Team News: Leeds make one change; Gaetano Berardi comes in for Pontus Jansson.
Team: Casilla, Ayling, Berardi, Cooper(c), Dallas, Phillips, Forshaw, Klich, Hernandez, Harrison, Roofe.
Derby County 0-1 Leeds United; Leeds take the lead in Pride Park with a spirited performance.
Thanks to Leedsunited.com.
Kemar Roofe gives Leeds a one goal lead to take to Elland Road for the second leg. Superb move and deadly finish from United’s top scorer.
Marcelo Bielsa: "We fought a lot, we were very focused and we defended and attacked according to the needs of the game. I thought we were mature.
At the beginning of the game, Derby dominated a little bit and then, for the last 35 minutes of the first half, we dominated. Our idea was to keep dominating to seal the win at the beginning of the second half.
We had chances to score both before we scored and after we scored, then we had 10-15 minutes where we suffered. At the end of the game it was a balanced game and we controlled the ball.”
Frank Lampard: "I'm not sure if it's a penalty - I think it's one of those you can get or not get. The referee gave it, but the linesman has decided it was clear enough to not be a penalty. It's like human VAR, but with the actual VAR, the only way they turn decisions, as you hear from the rules, is if it's a clear and obvious challenge. It wasn't. I can't understand it.
“I don't think we did enough. I thought, in the early parts of the game, we were good, created a couple of chances and we were positive. When I spoke before the game, I said that Leeds were favourites because of where they are in the league and because they are experienced.
Five games ago we were five points off the play-off positions and the lads have accepted that challenge and got into the play-offs. It's now up to us to show the true team that we are."
Samu Saiz seems a forgotten man in LS11.
The former fan favourite has been but a whisper since his somewhat shock loan departure in January due to family reasons.
Saiz joined 4th placed Spanish side Getafe on loan with a view to a £6million permanent move in the summer transfer window, cutting his Elland Road time short after only 18 months.
However, after only making two starts and featuring in eight games for the Spanish high-fliers, a permanent move now looks in doubt.
There may still be life in a move to Spain for the 28-year old after reports linking him with a summer move to Valencia now growing, according to HITC.
A return to Elland Road seems unlikely with the news that came out after his departure, advising that Saiz may have been a disruption in the dressing room and several players being nonchalant about his sudden move.
Should Leeds allow Valencia to approach Saiz, a permanent move could fetch anywhere between £5-8million and would be a profit on the £2.5million spent on his arrival from Huesca.
The question remains whether Saiz should be allowed to depart, his move to Spain may have been cathartic and we are all aware of his ability when in form.
Questions will be asked whether his inclusion in the second half of the season could have made an impact as Leeds struggled for creativity in the final third.
With a second leg now set in their sights and the recent news of Kemar Roofe being ineligible, can Leeds still progress to the Playoff final severely lacking key players, but there are still in favor of winning according to many Championship related online bookmakers.
Should Saiz stay or should he go? Have your say in the comments below.
By Ryan Ingham
Andy Buckley-Taylor who did the ‘interview with a rival’ gives his thoughts on his team’s 1-0 defeat.
The first leg of the tie for me was all about game management and how Leeds executed it. They were patient and very well organised.
Their back four, particularly the Full Backs Ayling and Dallas, were on top of their game from kick off to the final whistle.
Derby were frustrated time and time again when on the attack. The best Derby attacks came down the right but came to nothing. There was no cutting edge whilst around the box and the final ball was poor.
Leeds outmuscled Derby in Midfield and left them frustrated for the whole of the game. For e the only Derby players that would have scored a seven out of ten was Duane Holmes who battled tirelessly and made some impressive runs, but without any back up they came to nothing. Kelle Roos had a decent game in goal pulling off a couple of good saves and had no chance in saving the strike by Roofe which was perfectly executed to give Leeds the only goal of the game.
A superb afternoon watching the Leeds United under 23’s win the Premier Development League.
Man. City beat Leicester City 1-0 with a barnstorming goal from Vincent Kompany. The race for the Premier League title will go to the last game. Liverpool host Wolves while City travel to Brighton.
Carlos Corberan on his squads triumph in winning the Professional Development League title: "I think today was a very positive day for our players, they have lived an incredible experience. We came here to play the final full of people, it's something unbelievable. It makes you feel proud of our club.
These types of experience will only help our players grow and improve in their careers. The fact that we played extra-time and penalties can help us to continue to grow. We are always thinking about how these experiences can help our players. Today was a very positive day for them.
Marcelo is very focused on how every player is developing. We are trying to improve the strengths and weaknesses of every player. I think the connection is one of the keys, because they are playing games with the senior players.
This teaches you a lot about the mentality that you need to be a professional football player. Every time you have contact with them you know what you need to do better.
It's unbelievable how big this club is, they have shown they have the Leeds feeling inside themselves. They are going to help the Under-23s. It is something unbelievable and makes us feel very proud.
We also feel a higher responsibility because when they come here we want to give them happiness."
Ahead of tomorrow’s clash at Pride Park we spoke with Andy, a die hard Rams fan.
Considering Derby made the playoffs on the last day are you happy with Frank Lampard’s first season in charge?
Very happy. It’s always a gamble appointing rookie managers and Lampard has done well in what’s arguably the hardest division there is. He’s achieved what I suspect Gary Rowett thought that he couldn’t.
Stand out players and your Player of the Season?
Fikayo Tomori is my Player of the Season. He came as a relative unknown and has been outstanding all season. If he makes an error, he has the speed to correct it. He’s also passionate as well.
Standout players Jayden Bogle who’s been very impressive since being introduced and should we not go up, I think we will struggle to keep hold of him. Obviously Mount and Wilson have been brilliant but recently Martyn Waghorn too had been excellent.
Much was made of #spygate was it really that big of a deal when you think back to it?
It was a bit cheeky and I thought that you’d get a rap on the knuckles. I think the PowerPoint presentation was more annoying with Bielsa pulling Franks pants down in public.
Even though Leeds’ season is yet to finish, the club could be set for their summer transfer plans to begin.
The Whites are in the money! And could have a very busy summer after the suspected sales of several players who are not currently with the first team squad.
The first departure set to be completed is Caleb Ekuban, who’s loan at Trabzonspor is to be made permanent within the next week, a fee of £2.5million is said to have been inserted into the loan deal.
Ekuban didn’t take his chance in English football, literally. The Ghanaian forward was talented in the build up to goals but could not grasp several key chances given to him.
The second player to depart looks to be Samu Saiz, who has recently spent time on loan at Spanish top four side Getafe, who have confirmed his loan spell will not be made permanent.
However, links to a proposed move to Valencia and an end to his time in LS11 now looks very likely.
The final certainty is the cash windfall Leeds are set to earn for the proposed transfer of Danny Rose away from Spurs.
Leeds are said to have a sell on clause between 10/15% and could receive anywhere in the region of £3-5million when the full back cuts short his time in London.
The other departures could also bring in some much needed cash with the likes of Pawel Cibicki, Yosuke Ideguchi and Lauren’s De Bock all having permanent fee clauses within their loan contracts.
This could be a brilliant move for the Whites who are still being extremely sensible within the transfer market and not exceeding their means.
Moves for the above players not only frees up transfer funds for a squad that is in need of quality over quantity, but frees up several wages from the bill that could allow for a higher fallible of player.
Are their any players linked with exits you would like to see stay? Have your say in the comments below.
By Ryan Ingham
Marcelo Bielsa could be set for a reunion with former player Markel Susaeta.
According to reports, the Bilbao midfielder looks set to depart the club after 12 years.
Bielsa had previously worked with Susaeta between 2011 and 2013, where the Spaniard played a total of 95 appearances under his former head coach, scoring 24 goals and creating 24 assists.
Now a free agent, the technical midfielder still have plenty of suitors even at the age of 31 and Leeds could well be s fresh opportunity that Susaeta needs at the back end of his career.
Predominantly a winger, Susaeta could be the perfect option to accompany Pablo Hernandez, with both players versed in wide and central roles, allowing for the ability to switch the talented Spaniards throughout the season.
Leeds will be set to hit to reset button on the squad this summer with players like Jack Harrison expected to leave when his loan expires and the failure to acquire Dan James leaving gaps in Leeds’ winger slots.
Although he would expect a somewhat strong pay packet, the pull of working with Bielsa, who is still highly regarded in Bilbao could be enough to get any deal over the line.
With a market value of £7.8million, a free transfer could be the steal of the summer and a deal Leeds look to pursue while focusing on financial stability, whichever league they play in.
Would you like to see Susaeta join the Whites and add some more Spanish flair to Elland Road? Have your say in the comments below.
By Ryan Ingham