|Leeds United 2 v 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers|
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 6th August 2022 Kick-off 15:00
Preview: Leeds United v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Friday, 5th Aug 2022 09:19 by Lucas Monk
Tomorrow, Leeds kick off a new season with a home clash against Wolves. It should be a good one.
It’s New Season’s Eve! Are you excited? I am. I think this game has wonderful potential.
For starters, Wolves are not the Moss Side Head Choppers and we’re at home. For what it’s worth, I think the commentariat has been quite harsh on them and every other team that hasn’t spent the summer spraying money around like Viv Nicholson. Bruno Lage has proven himself a quietly astute operator and under his guidance Wanderers were the tenth-best team in the country last season, even if they did spend much of it being the Keir Starmer of the Premier League (boring and dislikable). They’re a solid outfit and I can’t really see them struggling. Still, they’re beatable, as Leeds proved at Molineux last season, and if Jesse Marsch and his Fine Young Men do the business again tomorrow we’ll all feel quite good.
I think football is immeasurably more enjoyable when you’re laughing, so the comedic potential of this match excites me too. Our last encounter with Wolves was extremely funny. As if verminous little cheat Raúl Jiménez getting himself sent off were not hilarious enough on its own, in doing so he spawned a sort of Wolves version of QAnon, with hordes of furious yam yams channelling their inner Donald Trump after the final whistle to rage on Twitter about how the officials were part of some grand deep state conspiracy to keep them out of European football for some unspecified reason. Jiménez's stupidity was also the catalyst for Leeds overturning a two-goal deficit despite losing four players to injuries. Luke Ayling scored the bloody winner in added time and then tried (and failed) to execute Robbie Keane’s trademark celebration with all the finesse of a pissed-up elephant. If tomorrow’s clash is half as funny I’ll be delighted. Jiménez is out of tomorrow’s game because he got injured in a recent pre-season friendly against Besiktas but Wolves should still play like the veritable shithouses they are. They’ll have the hard, truculent twosome of Tyler Adams and Rasmus Kristensen on their case if they do, which could well produce some more funny goodness in the Mexican’s absence, and I’d say there’s a good chance of a Leeds win sending the Wolves fans into another meltdown of Chernobyl proportions.
On a more serious note, there seems to be enough about Leeds, even if you’re the sort of person who’d complain about the lack of Wi-Fi reception in the Garden of Eden, to feel reasonably confident of an improvement on last season’s finish of 17th. The board sold Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha to Manchester City and Barcelona respectively, but used the money to buy Jesse some more Fine Young Men to link up with the Fine Young Men already at his disposal. Brenden Aaronson, Adams and Kristensen are all internationals who’ve played in the Champions League and settled in well at Leeds because they played for Jesse before coming here. Marc Roca has little in the way of athleticism but lots of technical ability and Luis Sinisterra is a delightful little livewire of a winger who scored 23 goals for Feyenoord last season, although he’s currently injured. Sonny Perkins and Darko Gyabi are seemingly ones for the future but could play a part this season because Jesse isn’t afraid to give you a chance if you’re a Fine Young Man, as Sam Greenwood would attest.
Pre-season was a mixed bag. Leeds were very good against Blackpool and very bad against Brisbane Roar. They then lost to Aston Villa and drew with Crystal Palace but in their final friendly last Sunday they spanked Cagliari and scored six and were a joy to watch save for a couple of minutes in which they conceded a couple of sloppy goals. Cagliari were terrible, which may explain why Rodrigo, who so often has been as much use as a condom machine at the Vatican since he became our record signing, scored a hat-trick, but you can only beat what’s in front of you, I suppose.
We’re by no means perfect and there are still things to moan about if you’re so inclined. Once again we’ll be in and around the bottom-fifth of the division in terms of expenditure on player wages, which Graham Potter and several prize-winning economists say has a significant bearing on where a team finishes in the table. It’s not that if Andrea Radrizzani were insane enough to pay me £100,000 a week to kick a pig’s bladder around for Leeds I’d do it as well as Mark Viduka or Raphinha (too soon?) because I wouldn’t. I’d last about as long on the pitch as The New Statesman’s Alan B’Stard did in bed, for a start. It’s more that higher pay packets attract better performers and lower ones worse.
There’s also no real cover for Junior Firpo or Patrick Bamford, which is ever so slightly perturbing when you consider how many games the pair of them missed last season. According to Graham Smyth of the Yorkshire Evening Post we’ll shortly be signing the former Wigan and Everton goalie Joel Robles to provide backup to Illan Meslier, which is good because from what I’ve seen of him Kristoffer Klaesson would struggle to save a PowerPoint. Hopefully we’ll secure similar signings in the left-back and centre-forward positions, although it may be difficult to lure players without something resembling a cast-iron guarantee of regular first-team football and we’ve already spent all the Raphinha and Phillips dosh on the Fine Young Men I mentioned earlier.
In broad terms, though, we look okay. We’re so well-stocked in midfield now that we’ve loaned Lewis Bate to Oxford United and are likely to allow Mateusz Klich to leave so he can play regular football and attempt to win a place in Poland’s World Cup squad, which is quite the change from the desperate position we were in back in January. That is just one sign among several others that we’re heading into this season in better shape than we did the last. Another is that the likes of Joe Gelhardt are a year older and wiser. If there’s some resolution of the left-back and striker issues and the board doesn’t smash the big red panic button at the first sign of trouble, sack the manager and veer off in a completely different direction with a new appointment as happened last season, I think we’ll be more than fine.
Luis Sinisterra will have to wait a little longer for his Leeds debut because he’s injured and out of this match. So too are Junior Firpo, Stuart Dallas, Adam Forshaw, Liam Cooper and Luke Ayling. Speedy Dan (James) is suspended having gotten a straight red card in United’s 3-0 home defeat to Chelsea toward the end of last season for an ever so slightly naughty tackle on Mateo Kovačić. Jesse Marsch will almost certainly hand debuts to Tyler Adams, Marc Roca, Brenden Aaronson and Rasmus Kristensen and field Pascal Struijk as a makeshift left-back in the absence of Firpo, as he did last week against Cagliari.
This summer Wolves have signed Nathan Collins from Burnley and absolutely nobody else. He should make his debut here. Raúl Jiménez and Chiquinho will sit this match out due to injuries. Adama Traoré, Nélson Semedo and Toti are all doubts. Bruno Lage will most likely opt for a striking pair of Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto, whose pace and trickery could cause problems for Leeds on the counter.
Score Prediction: Leeds 2-1 Wolves.
Scorers: Patrick Bamford and Jack Harrison.
Photo: Action Images
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