When the fixture list for the 2020/2021 season was released last August, there was a huge sense of excitement for everyone connected to Leeds United as the reality of playing in the Premier League after a 16-year hiatus became real.
However, there was a slight feeling of anxiety in the Leeds boardroom as April listed fixtures against Sheffield United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United.
Despite all the positivity around the club and the feeling of ongoing euphoria that had engulfed Elland Road over the course of the summer, there was a growing concern of what the worst-case scenario may be if Leeds got to Easter and were still fighting for their Premier League lives.
In essence, April had the potential to send Leeds back to the Championship if they hadn’t accumulated the points needed for survival, given that no one could predict with any real certainty that the Whites would add to the tally they found themselves on when early spring came around.
An April to write home about
As it turned out, Leeds arrived at the beginning of April 2021 with an incredible 39 points and would sail through the month unbeaten.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men did what even the most ardent Leeds fan didn’t think was even remotely possible.
They accumulated eight points out of a possible 12 and, just for good measure, also beat league leaders Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium with only 10 men, as the BBC sums up here. Naturally, this was a result that sent shockwaves through the entire footballing world.
For a better example of just how much of a splash Leeds made on that day in east Manchester, take a look at Asiabet’s football stats on the most popular competition to bet on and how many people actually tune in to watch the goings-on of the top-flight in England.
The football betting guide states that the English Premier League (EPL) is the most-watched worldwide, with an audience of up to 4.7 billion people. This is some way ahead of La Liga and the Champions League, which also attracts plenty of betting action and viewers.
Hero of the hour. Stuart Dallas.
A stunning brace from the Leeds man! pic.twitter.com/0OtNXAHLZV
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 10, 2021
Leeds would continue to thrill their captive audience and weren’t finished disrupting the status quo of England football just yet. Indeed, further impressive draws with Liverpool and Man United followed their heroics at the Etihad.
This sensational run of form gives one the impression that Bielsa’s Leeds have found their range in the Premier League.
In reality, it is nothing short of extraordinary that they’ve managed to do this before the completion of their first season back in the top-flight, and attention will now quite rightly turn to what the 2021/2022 season may hold for the West Yorkshire outfit.
In many ways, to understand why Leeds have had this upturn in form, which has morphed into consistent performances against the best teams in Europe, one has to look closely at the events of April.
Bielsa now has all his centre-backs available after long spells on the sidelines with injury. Leeds spent over £30 million on Robin Koch and Diego Llorente in the summer but, until April, both players hadn’t played on the same pitch together.
With that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine why Leeds have only conceded three goals in April and kept a clean sheet against Man United, given that the Whites can now call on the expertise of their German and Spanish internationals.
— Leeds United (@LUFC) April 20, 2021
A blessing in disguise?
But it was events during the first half at the Etihad that enabled Leeds to stumble upon this starting lineup that looks capable of qualifying for the Champions League next season.
Liam Cooper’s red card opened the door for a shake-up at the back, which involved former Ajax youth prodigy Pascal Struijk slipping into the heart of defence.
The 21-year-old Dutchman was so assured against Man United in the stalemate at Elland Road, that Bielsa broke his usual coy nature in the post-match press conferences to heap praise on the youngster.
More of Bielsa’s post-game thoughts on the draw with United can be found here on Sportslens’ match report.
Crucially, if it wasn’t for Cooper’s three-match suspension, there’s very little chance that Leeds would have lined up this way and experienced the success they have had.
Bielsa will now have to decide whether club captain Liam Cooper comes back into the team, but the feeling amongst Leeds fans is that there was always an expiry date on Cooper’s involvement with Leeds once they returned to the top-flight.
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) April 10, 2021
In reality, once Leeds began to threaten the European places, the consensus was that Cooper would have to make way for players of a higher quality.
That day seems to have arrived now that Leeds look primed to compete at the business end of the Premier League table next season.