It’s been a tough old season for Leeds United and while not safe from relegation just yet, our James Marshment picks out three signings who could transform their fortunes next season.
Listen, we’ve not had an easy time of it this season. Relegation concerns have never been too far away, given the team’s failure to find any sort of consistency this season. That lack of consistency must be a source of huge frustration to Marcelo Bielsa, because as the 2020/21 season tells you, this side can more than compete at this level.
The main issue Leeds have faced, however, has been injuries. Quite simply, Leeds United has been without too many of their top players for too long this season. At the time of writing, Kalvin Phillips and Liam Cooper still remain at least a fortnight away from returning.
Phillips is the talisman of the side; the glue that binds it all together. It’s no secret that when he doesn’t play, the team lacks cohesion. It also lacks a serious defensive blanket. Adam Forshaw has done more than an admirable job in filling that hole, but even he too has recently succumbed to injury.
Truth be told, his absence has hit Leeds seriously hard.
Cooper has also been a big miss though too. Granted, there are many who feel he wouldn’t be guaranteed a shirt these days such is the form of Pascal Struijk.
Granted, there are definitely arguments for that and Struijk has come an awful long way in a short space of time. I have absolutely no doubts he is already a top defender and is only going to get better. International recognition cannot be far away.
Cooper, however, is Leeds’ leader. A captain who not just wears the armband, but one who justifies it too with his organisation and leadership of Leeds. Whether you rate him as first choice or not, his absence has been felt by Leeds.
In the last nine games since Cooper and Phillips’ injuries, Leeds have shipped 26 goals – an average of nearly 2.9 a game.
In the nine games before their injury, Leeds conceded eight goals, a run that featured three clean sheets.
Bamford a major miss for Leeds United
And I’ve not even started on Patrick Bamford, last season’s top scorer with 17 Premier League goals.
Indeed, Leeds fans have seen just 20 minutes of Bamford since picking up an ankle injury in the 1-1 draw at Newcastle on September 17. And with no timescale yet on his return, the 2021/22 campaign is in danger of becoming a real lost season for Bamford. That alone, at a time when he was in peak form, is a major disappointment.
All that said, part of the blame must be placed on the club for failing to strengthen sufficiently over the past two windows. Granted, there are mitigating circumstances. The failure to land Conor Gallagher – one of the success stories of the season – had a major impact on the course of Leeds’ season. His goals in midfield would have been crucial and would have given Leeds another dimension.
And while Leeds do face a fight to avoid the drop, I believe the return of their key players – together with the quality already at the club – will ensure survival this season. With a tough run of games coming up, it might get worse before it gets better, that said.
Nonetheless, I do think Leeds have the quality to survive this season, and when they do, thoughts can officially turn to ways to improve in 2022/23.
Leeds United squad does not need major surgery
First of all, I think it’s wrong to suggest the squad needs major surgery.
However, I do think there are three key signings Leeds can make to ensure a much more successful campaign next time around.
Top of their list must be adding more quality and depth to their midfield.
And with talks already held over a deal for Brenden Aaronson, there is a belief that he will sign for Leeds in the summer.
Red Bull Salzburg – as is their right – had no desire to sell in January. But with Victor Orta in Austria for talks last month, it wouldn’t shock me if Leeds had managed to secure some sort of agreement ahead of the summer window.
A £25m fee might be a premium price for Aaronson’s talents. That said, his free-running from midfield and dribbling abilities will give the side something very different next season.
The squad also needs more depth in midfield and I would very much back a free-transfer swoop for Mohamed Elneny.
The Egyptian looks destined to leave Arsenal as a free agent this summer. And while he would need to lower his wages to sign for Leeds, he would be a decent addition if the price is right for Leeds.
His tigerish tackling, passing range and engine would be well suited to Leeds’ style. And he would provide the cover we’ve lacked this season for Phillips and Forshaw.
Broja the perfect striker for Leeds
Aside from a lack of midfield cover, Leeds have also badly lacked for striking options this season.
Daniel James has done well in various games as a makeshift replacement. Indeed, the opening 45 minutes he enjoyed at Villa Park were the finest he’s played in a Leeds shirt.
But there are other times when he struggles to make an impact too. Take the Newcastle defeat at Elland Road when James was subbed after touching the ball a mere handful of times.
Everton, Wolves among four Premier League clubs looking at Southampton striker Armando Broja
Armando Broja could leave Chelsea as Southampton, Everton, Leeds and Wolves want the Albania striker
That is not his fault – and his stature suggests Leeds do need much more of a physical presence up there.
In that regard, Bamford is the perfect option for Leeds and Bielsa. However, his lengthy absence has left Leeds with a somewhat irreplaceable hole to fill.
Chelsea man comes at a premium price
That said, there is a man out there in Armando Broja who would suit Leeds perfectly.
The Whites have already seen at first hand what the powerful Albanian is capable of.
Leeds would likely need to pay in excess of £30m – a club-record fee – if they were to land him. But that’s an investment I think that would pay dividends in the long run.
The issue for Leeds is that several clubs are also keen. And the big Albanian’s form might yet ensure bigger clubs than Leeds make firm approaches for him.
But if there is any indication Chelsea will sell, Leeds would be wise to engineer themselves to the front of the queue.
Could Raphinha be sacrificed?
Granted, it may well be a very different looking Leeds next season. Indeed, their main aim come the close season will again be the retention of their top stars. As such, both Raphinha and Phillips will be in high demand come the summer window. Leeds will expect to field several offers for both.
It would not, that said, come as a major surprise were Raphinha to be sacrificed. Were that day to come, hopefully it’s to an overseas and not to a Premier League rival.
Despite some poor form in recent games, his stock has risen massively this season. As such, Leeds may well consider his sale if an offer of £60m plus arrives.
To that end and citing the ‘Leicester model’, Andrea Radrizzani has already hinted that is a path Leeds could follow.
And were that to happen, a top-class replacement will need to be found.
However, and while not advocating the sale one of our most exciting player in a generation, his exit would likely tempt Leeds. It will also give them extra funds to reinvest.