2017-18 Season Preview: Can Leeds United Challenge for Promotion?
Thursday, 3rd Aug 2017 18:56 by @LucasMonk_
Armed with an innovative, radical and continental approach, Leeds United are well-placed to—in what will be a typically competitive Championship season—endeavour to ensure that they build on the many successes of last season so as to mount an assault on the division’s loftiest reaches.
With a new season comes boundless optimism. This is the time of year at which supporters of the football clubs of this country talk, in a bullish manner, of their club’s prospects ahead of the beginning of yet another arduous campaign. Some hope is foolish, futile and ill-conceived, but for the supporters of Leeds United there is, at last, genuine cause for such an emotion.
Though the departure of the highly adept Garry Monk following a largely stellar 2016-17 season could have been decreed as a form of travesty, a frenetic and productive summer at Elland Road has seen the tyrannical Massimo Cellino ousted and the club embrace modernity under the new owner Andrea Radrizzani.
Since the Italian media virtuoso acquired overarching control of Leeds, the club have adopted a cultured, continental approach emphasising economically favourable recruitment from overseas and prudent management of United’s finances. An example of the club’s newfound shrewdness in the market is the signing of Vurnon Anita, a Dutch international who was a Championship title winner with Newcastle last season, on a free transfer. In addition, shortly before the acquisition of Anita came the repurchase of Elland Road — a construction that Leeds have called home throughout the entirety of their existence, and that is now owned wholly by the club for the first time since 2004.
Monk’s replacement as United head coach, former Spain forward Thomas Christiansen, will enter only his fourth season as a professional manager, but he did arrive at Elland Road in June having performed remarkably at the helms of both AEK Larnaca and APOEL Nicosia. The 44 year-old Dane led Larnaca to consecutive second-placed finishes, recording the Green-Yellows’ highest-ever league finish in their history. A mettlesome run into the last-16 stage of the UEFA Europa League and a domestic title were to follow in his solitary season with APOEL, before an encounter with Radrizzani and director of football Victor Orta secured him the vacant managerial position at Elland Road.
The aforementioned developments, in addition to Radrizzani’s staunch commitment to substantial investment, have seen expectations heighten among many United supporters. Indeed, the Italian himself declared overtly in a recent interview with the BBC’s Dan Roan that his own ambition for the forthcoming campaign is for Leeds to secure a play-off place. But while aspirations of glory have burgeoned in the minds of those associated with the club, there have been onlooking observers who have called into question the potential efficiency of United’s newly-adopted approach.
Among them is a former defender, Alex Bruce. He remarked, rather nonsensically, that Leeds were “in turmoil” during an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live. Whether the club’s renewed approach to transfers will yield fruit or not is, for now, an open question; but what cannot be denied is that there is a clear gusto among United fans ahead of the new season, inspired no doubt by the club’s progressivity in the transfer market in addition to the repurchase of Elland Road. This writer takes the view that for such a virtually unanimous and thoroughly positive body of opinion to exist, there is a clear belief among the vast majority of Leeds fans that the newly-installed regime are acting orderly and in the interests of the club at large. It is a difficult task to attempt to recall the last owner of United who cultivated such a degree of support in the way that Radrizzani has done to date.
Having acquired a deluge of esteemed players at favourable prices, in addition to having offloaded many of the playing squad’s old guard (many of whom are synonymous with abject mediocrity) it is clear that Leeds are well-placed, ahead of the coming season, to challenge for a play-off berth. The retention of Pontus Jansson and introduction of Felix Wiedwald will provide defensive solidity, the capture of cultured midfielders such as Klich and Anita will allow United to dictate play in the middle of the park and the purchase of rampant attackers including the fleet-footed Macedonian winger Ezgjan Alioski (who was subject to reported interest from recent Premier League champions Leicester City only earlier in the year) will decrease the team’s dependency on Chris Wood for goals.
The club’s revised approach, one that includes a director of football in addition to a wildly divergent management team to the last, will doubtless take time to assimilate into the English game and adapt to its many rigours, but the expectation of this scribe is that the club will be in firm contention for a play-off position this season and the heightened aspirations of Leeds fans will be met emphatically with a campaign even better than the last.
In Full: Writer's Verdict on Forthcoming Season
Final Position: 6th
With a large complement of new signings signed to the tune of reasonable fees, the necessity for a fresh influx of talent has been satisfied. With added impetus in attack, United will no longer be so dependent on the marvellous Chris Wood for goals and shall thus be enabled to play with greater flexibility. The new acquisitions bolster what was already a highly competitive Championship outfit who will now pose a considerable threat to their contemporaries.
One to Watch: Eunan O'Kane
The 27 year-old Londonderry-born midfielder is a cultured player possessed of excellent passing capabilities. A spell of imperious form for the Republic of Ireland international throughout November 2016 coincided with United's remarkable ascent into the play-off places and, following a series of impressive displays in pre-season, I consider that the former Bournemouth man will play an integral part in any success Leeds enjoy this season.
Signing of the Season: Vurnon Anita
Strong in the tackle, dependable and a player of an admirable diligence, the signing of Vurnon Anita on a free transfer is one that will prove a masterstroke on the part of the management. The 28 year-old brings with him a wealth of experience that will prove invaluable as United seek to compete within the division's upper echelons and he is also a versatile player who can be deployed in numerous positions.
Photo: Action Images
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