Note: This preview was written on Friday, before the Derby game on the weekend.
2009-10 marked the year Leeds United finally started to rise again. After years of demise, the statement of intent was sent to the upper echelons of English football when the Whites stunned old rivals, Manchester United on their own turf, knocking them out of the FA Cup in the third round.
It all looked rosy for Leeds. We led League One by eight points over Norwich and were still celebrating an historic win over our Old Trafford enemies when things started to go a little off the rails. The eight point lead gone, and Leeds now desperately clinging to an automatic place, the Whites wrapped things up the only way we know how – the hard way!
A season of ‘ups and downs’ for the Whites eventually concluded with a promotion party at Elland Road. Even then, we’d not done things the easy way going down to ten men against Bristol Rovers and having to claw our way back from 1-0 down.
A beautifully struck equalizer from Jonny Howson leveled things before Jermaine Beckford said goodbye to the Leeds United fans in style – by sealing promotion with a poachers toe-poke. A controversial figure that divided opinion during his time at Elland Road, but his goals were invaluable to the team and he joins Everton with our best wishes.
Summing up the roller coaster season that was 2009-10 in three paragraphs doesn’t do it justice. It was the kind of season the American’s make feature films out of. A young coach with new ideas sets out on his first full season in charge, everything starts well and the team react positively, but then things go downhill and it’s a race to get the players performing again just in time for that climax moment where the party begins and the credits roll.
So that leaves us in 2010-11 with renewed expectations. What most fans would see as our natural level, the EPL, is now firmly within our sights and Leeds United are just 46 games away from realizing that dream – but is it a season too soon for the Whites?
The general consensus amongst Leeds United fans is that 2010-11 will be a year of consolidation. No real money has been spent on signings, despite eight new players arriving at Elland Road, which has left most fans feeling less than inspired.
That’s not to say the signings haven’t been good ones. Kasper Schmeichel came in as our new number one, with Leeds fending off Premier League teams for his signature and he’s joined by another ex-Manchester United player’s son, Alex Bruce (son of Steve).
The goalkeeping position was a key area Leeds needed to strengthen with Casper Ankergren leaving the club, and Kasper Schmeichel is exactly the kind of man we’d all hoped for. Alex Bruce meanwhile is largely expected to play a holding midfield role with the slowest defense in English football desperately in need of cover.
Elsewhere, center-back Paul Connolly joins from opening day opponents Derby County and Federico Bessone comes in from Swansea to occupy one of our troublesome full-back positions. Not much money spent here either with Bessone on a free and Connolly undisclosed – believed to be in the region of £200,000 – but once again they’re both positions where Leeds United needed to strengthen and for the money spent, must be considered good signings.
Of course, the big news of the summer was Jermaine Beckford joining Everton after a prolific spell at Elland Road where he netted 72 goals in 126 league appearances. Most Leeds fans feel we haven’t brought in a natural replacement for Becks and that we may struggle to replace the impressive amount of goals he scored during his time in Leeds.
Despite signing Billy Paynter on a free from Swindon – who last season scored more than Beckford – our hopes were firmly set on Gary Hooper joining from Scunthorpe. With Hooper leaving for Celtic instead, the center-forwards remained a big talking point.
Ideally, I’d have liked to have seen another striker signed, but with the new 4-5-1 formation Simon Grayson has been playing with in pre-season we might just be okay. Especially, with Arsenal youngster Sanchez Watt here on a season-long loan and another new signing, Lloyd Sam, impressing in pre-season.
The plan for Leeds seems to be plenty of width and flair in midfield with balls sent into the box from our pacey wingers for the powerful Luciano Becchio or Billy Paynter to get on the end of, and it could just work. The flexible 4-5-1 formation should give us an edge over those that don’t use it as it’ll allow the midfield to get back and support our fragile looking defense, whilst at the same time, providing plenty of options going forward.
At the moment the biggest concern is the players we’ll be missing for opening day through injury and suspension, namely, Robert Snodgrass, Max Gradel and new signing Billy Paynter. A fully fit Leeds United team looks pretty good, but losing three key players for the opening few games is a huge blow.
Overall, whilst I think it’s probably a season too soon for promotion I’m extremely excited about the next nine and a half months and I don’t think we’ll be far off come May. Another season of ‘ups and downs’ awaits the mighty Leeds United with a whole host of Yorkshire derbies to look forward to and the chance to catch up with some old friends up and down the country. Bring it on!
Written by David, a passionated Leeds United fans who runs the popular LUFC blog, The Scratching Shed.