Leeds’ season in the balance; are the new faces good enough and can the old ones find their form?
This has been one of the strangest pre-seasons I can ever remember! We’ve basically watched two sides; one, which we believed to be the favoured XI, the best Marcelo Bielsa believed he had at the time of the games, and a second comprised of all the other players who were, essentially, competing for a place on the subs bench once the competitive season begins. The 1st XI has played three games.
The 1st XI, the one we saw at Forest Green, Southend and against Las Palmas, was pretty much the side we ended last season with: Peacock-Farrell, Luke Ayling, Bera, Coops, Stuart Dallas, Samu Saiz, Pablo, Adam Forshaw, Kalvin Phillips, Alioski, Kemar Roofe, and, when first Pablo and then Forshaw dropped out through injury, De Bock and Ronnie Vieira. The 2nd XI was a mixture of the up and coming Under 23s together with a couple of new faces in Lewis Baker and Jamal Blackman plus the prodigal son, returning a seemingly new man, Mateusz Klich.
It even seemed that the two new loanees, Baker and Blackman, had just failed to come up to the standard Bielsa believed he already had in his preferred XI. I guess you folk reading this now, like me, thought the season was probably dead in the water already, since the players we appeared to be heading into battle with were the very same who lost the Championship war last season, even if we still had the mighty Viking, Pontus Jansson, to join up with us again at some point.
But what a difference a few days make! Compared with that team we saw at the New Lawn, the Kassam and then at ER on Sunday, we now have three players who seem likely to come straight into the first team, if not against Stoke next Sunday, then certainly by the time we entertain Rotherham in mid-August and they will surely be joined by Pontus Jansson too; more than a third of the team will suddenly be changed and, if we trust in the judgement of Bielsa, as we all have to at the moment, then other things being equal we’ll be at least 33 per cent improved!
And then there is the potential impact Mateusz Klich might make if he too can force his way into the reckoning perhaps closely followed by the ever improving Lewis Baker.
The arrival of Barry Douglas, Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford, and then adding in Pontus and Klich to any 1st XI equation, looks like a significant bump up in quality for us and we shouldn’t forget that there is still a low numbered shirt, the number 5, that is vacant and presumably will be filled shortly and, if the club is to be taken at its word, that signing will also be a quality player able to impact the first team.
So, things suddenly look positive don’t they? Well, I am not too proud to admit, I don’t really know! I can’t say whether Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford are going to rip up the Championship this season – presumably Bielsa thinks they will and that’s good enough for me at the moment. But I have never been convinced by Patrick Bamford, and the way he’s never settled anywhere suggests others haven’t been persuaded either. Maybe he fits a particular requirement Bielsa has for his main striker, let’s hope so.
Similarly with Harrison, who has spent his two year professional career to date in New York. Again, he has shown enough talent to have been snapped up by Man City so let’s keep our fingers crossed he’s the real deal too. Barry Douglas needs to convince no one of course, he did all that last season on the way to the Premier League with Wolves.
Strangely enough, for me, the biggest factor is going to be the form of the players from last season who continue to play their part. Samu Saiz has looked a pale imitation of the player we know he can be throughout the two and a half games he’s played in pre-season, while Pablo Hernandez is also taking an age to get his old legs moving smoothly again. And Ezgjan Alioski is already being spoken about as a potential casualty of any further recruitment as he too has struggled to shine thus far. The three of them need to get their respective Mojos back, and quick.
So, many questions then remain in my mind as to how we will shape up and in particular how quickly we can get the new faces integrated into the Bielsa machine.
You know what? I’m just going to enjoy seeing it all unfold in the next few weeks and I’m not even going to speculate on what we might or might not achieve, other than to believe we at least have a few more options than we did this time last week! Enjoy the season everyone!
By David Watkins
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