When Leeds United lost 4-1 to Bolton Wanderers on 2nd May 2004, condemning them to relegation to the second tier, there was no way they would know that their exile from the big-time league would last up to sixteen years.
For a club of such proportions and traditions, it was, of course, a serious matter and it was expected that Leeds United would get their house in order, set their ship to sail and bounce back. A decade and a half of bottled opportunities, managerial and ownership turbulence, and even relegation to the third tier in 2006-7 put to rest any such notions for Leeds United.
However, under the tutelage of Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, it does finally look like Leeds United are truly in their way back this time. As of today, they only need one point from their last two games of the season to make their belated return to the English Premier League.
In close chase are West Bromwich Albion, a club that enjoyed relative success in the last decade of the English Premier League, achieving promotion in 2010, and staying up until Tony Pulis’ chaotic reign and Darren Moore’s hapless attempts to steady the ship saw them go down in 2018.
After missing out on the playoff final last year, the Baggies (West Bromwich Albion) have been consistently on form this season and are set to make a deserved return to elite English football as well. The race to the play off’s consists of various teams ranging from Brentford, Fulham and Nottingham Forest. Whoever does make it up will have fought incredibly hard.
However, in this piece, we seek to address a phenomenon which has recently become apparent for promoted teams. When Fulham got promoted from the championship in 2017, they went on a spending spree that saw them splash over a hundred million on players like Jean Michel Seri, Lazar Markovic, Ryan Babel, Frank Zambo Anguissa, and Andre Schurrle.
Leeds United needs to pick a leaf from previously regelated teams if it wants to stay at the top
The circumstances of both these teams are actually more similar than you might realise. Both arrived with reputations for playing an attractive, expansive brand of football. Both decided to stick to that style, and both conceded in excess of seventy goals and still found themselves regelated.
Compare this with Wolverhampton Wanderers, who were promoted at the same time with Fulham in 2018, and Sheffield United who finished runners up to Norwich last season. Both arrived in the league with pragmatic managers, who quickly realized that they would never be able to match the established teams playing so openly and both based their style of play on solidity in defence and aggressive running in midfield.
It shouldn’t surprise you that both are the surprise packages of the season on the cusp of qualifying for Europe ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspurs. The term “surprise package” is perhaps not accurately used, considering they did the same thing last year and are currently in round sixteen of the Europa League.
A shrewd business sense that saw them establish a relationship with Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes has seen talented players a la Joao Moutinho, Rui Patricio, Daniel Podence, Raul Jimenez, Pedro Neto, to mention but a few join the West Midlands club.
For all the attacking talent at his disposal, Nuno Espirito Santo has still built a team so highly dangerous on the counter because of how solid Conor Coady, Willy Boly, and Matt Doherty are in front of Portugal number one stopper, Patricio.
Leeds United and West Brom should learn from the other team’s strategies if they want to keep spots in the English Premier League
Solidity at the back gives the likes of Jimenez and Adama Traore all the freedom they need to run riot hence Wolves’ success. As for Sheffield United, when they first arrived, many were sceptical of Chris Wilder’s then bizarre tactics of overlapping centre-backs.
Right now, he is considered a pioneer and is definitely in the running for Manager of the Year. Again, this is down to the fact that Sheffield United are a well-drilled outfit but a miserly in defence that they’ve kept up to 13 clean sheets this season.
The efforts of John Egan, Enda Stevens, George Baldock, Jack O’Connell, Chris Basham, as well as the heroics of Dean Henderson have provided the defensive stoicism that has been a hallmark of the Blades this season.
While in their case it is better to wait next season to be sure that they aren’t a fluke, it still doesn’t dampen the fact that they’ve more than exceeded the expectations they set for themselves at the beginning of the season. With this established, it would be wise for Leeds United, West Brom and whoever else will be promoted to adapt accordingly, or risk being demoted before the season is through.
Author: Allan Bangirana
Allan Bangirana has a taste for all kinds of topics and usually writes about tech, entertainment, sports and community projects that make a difference in society.