Having finished ninth in their first season back in the top-flight since 2003-04, many Leeds fans will be dreaming of qualifying for Europe with good reason.
They are good enough, but there is no need to get fixated on it. Marcelo Bielsa’s players should just be concentrating on improving on last season and continuing the building work going on during the Argentinian’s three years in West Yorkshire. Do that, and the rest will look after itself.
Last season Leeds took the Premier League by storm but it would do them no harm to go under the radar this time.
Teams can get into trouble over-reaching when they try to kick on, but Leeds’s development has been steady and organic.
Bringing in loads of new players demands time to gel and getting used to the Bielsa way can be even harder. Some clubs will be going through big changes this season but Leeds will keep quietly following the formula that got them to this point.
Of the four star players brought in last summer, only Raphinha had a really outstanding season, with Rodrigo, Robin Koch and Diego Llorente just showing flashes between injury and illness. We can expect more from them in the coming months.
So far this summer they have signed a left-back, which they needed, added back-up goalkeeper Kristoffer Klaesson and continued to strengthen their under-23s. There could be more to come with interest in Huddersfield Town midfielder Lewis O’Brien and I think another winger would not go amiss but they have been very measured in the transfer market, a sign of confidence in the players they have and a coach who makes them better.
As well as looking at the here and now they are building for the future, signing youngsters like Lewis Bate, Sean McGurk and Amari Miller.
Leeds are proof that investing in a world-class manager is better than spending millions on players. Bielsa inherited a group of Championship players with talent and turned them into a top Premier League team. He has improved them technically and in terms of their belief. Kalvin Phillips deserves more credit than anyone for turning himself into the player we saw for England at Euro 2020, but Bielsa was important too.
This time last year there was a lot of chat about “second-season syndrome” at Sheffield United after they too finished ninth in their first season back in the Premier League but I really do not think it applies to Leeds.
Last season did not feel like a fluke. If anything, there were probably more games I saw where they were unlucky not to win than the other way around.
Bielsa’s players developed and evolved during the campaign.
When you look at the statistics, perhaps their last trip to Old Trafford was a bit of a turning point. After that 6-2 defeat they were conceding more than two goals a game, playing thrilling football and getting wins but giving opponents plenty of chances too. After that they conceded 24 goals in as many matches. The worry when a team – or player – is new at a particular level is that opponents will work them out but Leeds showed they were able to evolve.
When I read recently that their physical performance statistics in pre-season have actually increased my reaction was just “Wow!” That part of their game was incredible last season.
They will also have the advantage of a full Elland Road, and having been on those terraces, I know how powerful that can be.
Watching the first game of the Championship season, between Bournemouth and West Bromwich Albion, I was struck by the intensity of the game and how quickly it started. That had to be the effect of playing in front of full crowds again after 18 months without.
The higher the intensity of the football, the more you think that will help, and football does not get much more intense than the way Leeds play it.
If they can get a positive start to the season, beginning at the ground where they suffered a big defeat last season, it can take them a long way. Just do not mention Europe.