Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United have had a troublesome start to the 2021-22 Premier League season as the Whites are just one spot above the relegation zone after nine matches. After a remarkable top half finish in the previous season, fans were expecting Leeds to kick on in their second season back in the top-flight and achieve better results but the story has been the opposite so far. They have endured a rocky start, just enough to get fans a bit worried about their beloved team, but not enough for them to press the panic button just yet.
Here are the reasons for this difficult start and how they can improve on that going forward in the season.
Bielsa’s Leeds United are suffering the so-called second-season syndrome, where teams often struggle a year after promotion when the momentum of going up disappears and the results start getting tougher to achieve. Other teams in the league now have an idea of what to expect when they come up against the Whites and are much better prepared to go toe-to-toe with the Peacocks.
As soon as a team comes up from the Championship, normally the squad is buoyed with momentum and it creates a false sense of belief that nothing is impossible to achieve. This momentum slowly dies down and this is where most teams struggle in their second season in the league. If the team is able to survive this period, then one can expect a long stint in the league as they would have gone through the toughest period possible. Hence, it is key for the Whites to recover from this syndrome and make survival their first priority this season.
UNDERPERFORMING ON xG
One of the obvious reasons for Leeds’ lack of results has been the way they have been squandering chances in front of goal. They have been wasteful in these nine games and their xG indicates exactly that. According to the xG, Leeds should have had 12 goals or more by now but they only have four to show for this. This underperformance on the xG is the worst in the league and something that Bielsa needs to be worried about.
Their main goalscorer from the previous season, Patrick Bamford has been injured for the past four games with an ankle injury and his replacement Rodrigo has never been a natural goalscorer. Leeds are banking on Raphinha to do the bunch of their scoring and the Brazilian too has been nursing a few injuries in the current season. Bielsa needs more goals from the midfield and this is something the team has struggled to produce so far in the league.
LACK OF SQUAD DEPTH
After securing promotion in the 2019-20 season, Leeds did spend heavily in the summer transfer window and were geared up for a fight in the Premier League after 16 long years. Post a successful comeback season, the Whites had a relatively quiet transfer window and the effects of it are showing in the current season. Bielsa just has a couple of options to choose from in different positions and with players like Bamford, Luke Ayling, Kalvin Phillips and Robin Koch all injured currently, the quality dips in the playing XI. They surely will be looking to address this issue in the coming January transfer window.
They ideally need to think of bringing another striker who is an understudy to Patrick Bamford. They have struggled to keep their centre-halves fit from the previous season. Even though they already have four top-quality players in that position, a few of them seem too injury-prone. When Kalvin Phillips is missing from the XI, Leeds look like half the team they actually are. An understudy of the Englishman would be key as well going forward.