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How Leeds United can push on in the Premier League

Oli Trussler Jones August 29, 2020
Leeds United v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet Championship
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In Leeds, Marcelo Bielsa is their God. After 16 agonising years away from the big time, the flamboyant Argentine has taken Leeds United back to the promised land of the Premier League.

While they won the Championship by 10 points, it did not always look like the Elland Road outfit were going to be promoted with such ease. As a result, to be successful in the Premiership the club need to recruit well in the right areas.

The new faces at Leeds United

The club have already made three permanent additions and one loan this summer. The signing of Illan Meslier after a reasonably successful loan spell gives them a safe pair of hands between the posts and the former Lorien shot stopper was very highly rated in France.

Another shrewd acquisition was the arrival of Wigan’s Joe Gelhardt. They picked him up for a nominal fee due to Wigan’s administration and the Liverpool native really looks like a future star.

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The club record arrival of Wolves’ Helder Costa is somewhat contentious due to the rather hefty price tag that came with the Portuguese winger. However, he could certainly provide creativity and dynamism to the side as well as much needed Premier League experience.

The loan signing was that of Manchster City’s Jack Harrison who has spent two precious seasons with Leeds already and is a good winger waiting for his chance in the Premier league. 

What are Leeds lacking?

Considering their acquisitions, there are three key areas where Leeds must strengthen. They need a centre-back to replace Ben White, who has returned to Brighton. They need an attacking midfielder as a long term replacement for Pablo Hernandez and a proven goal scorer up front. 

Starting in attacking midfield, Leeds have a few options. They could test the waters by matching Lorenzo Pellegrini’s €30m buyout clause at Roma but it is unlikely the player would want the move. Eberi Eze has been excellent for QPR but he is destined for Crystal Palace.

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Considering what they need, they should go in for Flamengo attacking midfielder Giorgian De Arrascaeta. The Uruguayan international managed a staggering 13 goals and 14 assists in 23 appearances for the Brazilian champions and was one of the standout players in the division. Obviously, the Brazilian Serie A is not quite Premier League standard but Arrascaeta’s numbers indicate he could make the transition to Europe. Leeds need somebody who can both score and create chances and the 26-year-old can certainly do that. He would ease the goalscoring burden off the striker and is versatile able to play anywhere across the three in a 4-2-3-1. He is also capable as a second striker if Bielsa chose to do that. This transfer seems like a strong option for Leeds and would most likely cost around £17.5 million in today’s market. The other bonus for Leeds is that the player may want to leave Brazil due to the current covid-19 situation in the country. 

Centre-back problems

A problem area in the squad is at centre-back. Ben White was arguably the best defender in the entire Championship and they will have absolutely looked to bring him back in the Premier League. Brighton were tempted with Leeds’ offers but the South coast side did not want to sell to a team they see as a direct rival. As a result, Bielsa will be looking to bring in a ball playing defender.

Malang Sarr would’ve been a good option, but he has just penned a five-year deal at Chelsea. Villarreal’s Pau Torres has proven himself to be a truly excellent defender in the past few years but he would cost a huge fee. Villarreal would be unlikely to accept less than £40m and Leeds should look to invest in other areas rather than spend all their money on the Spanish international.

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A riskier option would be Mark Mckenzie of Philadelphia Union but he is unproven at the highest level. At 21 years old though Mckenzie is one for the future. As a result, they should look at Swansea City’s Joe Rodon.

Rodon has struggled for fitness having two serious injuries in the past two seasons and this is a major red flag. Despite this, if Rodon can stay injury free he is a truly excellent footballer. He is composed on the ball managing an average of 49.3 passes per game at an 81% success rate for his boyhood club. He makes 5.4 clearances per game and 2 long balls. His 2.2 tackles and interceptions are low for a defender but this is a stat that does not give many indications of a centre-back’s ability. He would cost around £15m due to his injury record for the Swans but he has shown on his day to be one of the best defenders in the second tier. Rodon is a full Welsh international and could form the heart of the Whites’ backline for the next 10 years. 

Is Rodrigo enough for the attack?

In forward areas, the club appears to be on the brink of signing Rodrigo from Valencia. But, is he the right man for the side from the UK’s third largest city? At 29 years of age, he is not a long-term option and they can only get around 3-4 years of peak performance from the Spaniard. He only managed four goals in La Liga last season but will still be setting the club back £36 million.

A risky option would be Flamengo forward Gabriel Barbosa who has turned into a deadly goal scorer since returning to Brazil after a failed stint at Inter. He would cost a large fee and given his disastrous spells at both Inter Milan and Benfica, he may look to develop himself in Brazil for a few more years before returning to a top 5 league.

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Instead, they should take a look at Brentford’s Ollie Watkins. It is no secret that Watkins is a target for a number of Premier League clubs having managed 26 goals in the 19/20 Championship season for Brentford. It is likely the Englishman would cost less than Rodrigo and at 24 is a much more long term option. His 2.7 shots per 90 are encouraging and he is taking a very impressive 4.6 touches per 90 in the opposition box. One final stat that makes for impressive reading is his 1.5 key passes per 90.

In Bielsa’s system, he will be expecting the wingers to chip in with goals and Watkins is the sort of creative striker who can unlock the potential of Jack Harrison and Helder Costa. Despite the Rodrigo deal nearly being done, he is definitely not the man Leeds should be pursuing. 

But can Leeds United stay in the Premier League?

To sum it up, Leeds United are poised to do very well in the Premier League this season. They have a strong core of players such as Kalvin Phillips, Liam Cooper and Luke Ayling. Phillips in particular will be looking to prove himself at the top level for his boyhood club after earning his first England call up for the upcoming round of fixtures.

With the right recruitment, Leeds United can look to consolidate themselves as a Premier League club, finally back at the level where they belong.

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