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Could This Year See Leeds United Return to the Big Time?

It has been a long old time since Leeds United was a Premier League football club: 2004, in fact, was the last time they competed in the English top-flight.

Since then, there have been false dawns, false hope and false prophets, with a drop into League One for a short time as low as the club has sunk in nearly 30 years.

But from the madness of the Massimo Cellino years, finally some solid ground and composure have been found. Blessed by a more pragmatic owner in Andrea Radrizzani, and with a manager in Marcelo Bielsa who is known the world over for his tactical nous and acumen, the Yorkshire club finally look ready for a return to the Premier League.

There was a dress rehearsal last season, of course, when a late wobble in the campaign saw Leeds drop out of the automatic promotion places. The less said about the play-offs the better.

But the Whites are back in amongst the upper echelons this term, and after a summer of evolution, rather than evolution, the general consensus is that this is Leeds’ time. Indeed, they are favourites according to the latest outright winner Championship betting odds, so perhaps Bielsa’s men should have higher aspirations than mere promotion.

So could 2019/20 finally the season that Leeds United ascend back to the Premier League?

Swede and Sour

In conceding 50 goals last season, it was quite evident where Leeds’ main problems stemmed from.

When you ship goals at a rate of greater than one per game, naturally you are going to drop points – you need to score two just to have any chance of claiming victory.

So, changes were necessary, although most were surprised when Pontus Jansson became the fall guy when transferred out to Brighton.

Ever popular with the Elland Road faithful, the Swede was the kind of non-nonsense defender that football fans love their team to employ.

But Bielsa saw things differently, and he let Jansson go to replace him with young Ben White, a youth prospect at Brighton.

And so far it’s a move that has worked like a charm: White hasn’t missed a minute of Championship action so far, and Leeds are now conceding at a rate of just 0.50 goals per game on average. That’s the kind of improvement that wins silverware.

A New Roofe

There was another shock departure in the summer: Kemar Roofe.

The 14-goal top scorer decided to wave goodbye to English football with a fresh start at Anderlecht under the management of Vincent Kompany.

Roofe was a pacey and direct strong runner with an eye for goal, and so his absence has left a sizeable hole for Bielsa and his recruitment team to fill.

They’ve brought in Eddie Nketiah on loan from Arsenal, and the 20-year-old has taken to life in Yorkshire with aplomb.

But it’s the emergence of Patrick Bamford that has really caught the eye. Somewhat in the shadow of Roofe last season, the 26-year-old has taken his promotion to ‘main man’ with customary confidence, bagging four goals in eight Championship games thus far.

There’s no doubting Bamford’s ability, but occasionally his application has been called into question. So far this season, he’s used the critic’s ire as ammunition to take his game to the next level.

Same Old Faces

It goes without saying that the key to success for any football team, no matter what level they play at, is hanging on to their best players.

And that’s exactly what Leeds managed to do in the summer. Kalvin Phillips is a Premier League player in waiting – whether at Elland Road or elsewhere, and so retaining his signature was crucial.

Bielsa has also managed to persuade the likes of Alioski, Cooper and Klich – not short of admirers – to remain for another year at least, while Jack Harrison was cajoled into another season on loan rather than trying his luck at parent club Manchester City.

So there you have it: three excellent reasons why Leeds United could whisper it and finally end their Premier League drought this season.

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