Separating the wheat from the chaff already appears to be the key focus for Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United in pre-season, with numerous departures already announced ahead of the 2018-19 Championship campaign and many more expected to follow, as he looks to find an ideal squad balance.
Leeds United fielded a total of 32 players throughout the 2017-18 campaign, amongst the highest last season in the Championship last season, although that does include single appearances by Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Hugo Diaz and 17-year-old Ryan Edmondson, who all played less than ninety minutes. While many fans have been eagerly anticipating exciting potential signings that could follow the arrival of Bielsa as manager, it’s important to note that right from the off, he made it clear that trimming down the squad numbers would be one of his immediate priorities.
Indeed, during his presentation press conference on June 25, Bielsa stated: “The players I want to keep are the players I can guarantee game time to. We think the club, generally, have got 15 players you might consider to be an excessive amount, 15 more than we need.” Since then, the club has swiftly begun to clear out those players who are considered surplus to requirements, doing so with a mixture of permanent sales and loan deals.
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While the arrival of Bielsa has certainly brought a positive air to Elland Road, with bookmakers slashing odds on Leeds winning promotion from the Championship this term, sensible punters will probably be a little more cautious, utilising resources such as Infogol’s tips and advice to carefully analyse data and statistics surrounding what each player can bring to the table.
No doubt the Argentine coach will have done the same kind of profound analysis, when he rubber-stamped permanent departures that include goalkeepers Felix Wiedwald and Andy Lonergan, midfielder Madger Gomes, or forward Marcus Antonsson, who spent last season on loan at Blackburn Rovers. The list of players shipped out on loan is also lengthy, already including Tyler Denton, Jay-Roy Grot, Paudie O’Connor and Pawel Cibicki.
By stark contrast, only three inbound signings for the first team squad have been officially announced. Those are the captures of towering goalkeeper Jamal Blackman and midfielder Lewis Baker, both arriving on one-year loan deals from Chelsea, while 18-year-old full-back Leir Davis has joined from Morecambe and will initially feature in the Under-23 side. Interestingly, none of the trio featured in the opening pre-season encounter against Forest Green Rovers, as Bielsa went with other options instead.
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Nevertheless, additional quality arrivals will be needed to strengthen in key areas of the team, particularly in the attacking third of the pitch. Frustratingly, Leeds have already missed out Florian Jozefzoon after he chose Derby County instead. Meanwhile, Matej Vydra is held out for a Premier League move, which eventually came to fruition with Burnley. However, the additions of Harrison and Bamford have added some depth to the Leeds line, the season is a long one and Leeds need for players in a quick game.
After all the initial excitement at Bielsa taking the helm, business to shape the definitive squad needs to step up a gear or two and be done quickly.
Although he is a hugely respected manager, the 62-year-old isn’t called ‘El Loco’ (The Crazy One) for nothing, as his departures from Lazio in 2016 after just two days will attest, or his bust-ups with the Marseille and Lille hierarchy over transfer policy, when the expected signings didn’t arrive as promised.
This is perhaps the one great fear for anyone who has followed Bielsa’s career. If the Leeds management don’t buck up their ideas and get important deals done in the next few weeks, along with still looking to bolster their squad, the club could well be looking for another manager, if Bielsa decides to walk.
Hopefully, that scenario won’t happen.