By 90Min
August 20, 2019

Wednesday 15th May 2019.

Hopes were crushed and dreams shattered for 34,000 Leeds United supporters inside Elland Road. 

A gut-wrenching second leg playoff defeat to Frank Lampard’s Derby, a team Leeds had already beaten three times that season, ended their promotion hopes. 

The chant of ‘Leeds, Leeds are falling apart again’, one that has been heard far too often from opposition fans, was again being bellowed out by 2,000 ecstatic Derby supporters.

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Leeds were clear at the top of the Championship table at Christmas, which historically almost always means promotion come May. The club had dropped off though, and the pain which Leeds fans know all too well returned.

However, skip forward a few months and Leeds’ campaign started all over again and in tremendous fashion, as they won 3-1 away against Bristol City on the opening day at Ashton Gate, following that result up with a draw at home to Nottingham Forest and another victory over Wigan.

Ahead of Tuesday's midweek games, Leeds are sitting pretty at the top of the Championship.

Over the summer manager Marcelo Bielsa has committed his future to the club, while exciting additions, like winger Helder Costa, have been brought in and players he did not see eye to eye with like Pontus Jansson have been moved on. Optimism among fans is rife, as the pain of last year is put to one side as the greatest supporters in English football look to roar their beloved Leeds to promotion. 

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Leeds have reasons to be hopeful of promotion, with one major one being the man in the dugout: Marcelo Bielsa.

The role of a manager in football has changed over the decades. Through improvements in technology, preparation and planning has become greater than ever before, with clubs able to access thousands of clips which highlight crucial areas of the game. 

Bielsa ranks alongside Pep Guardiola as a thorough organiser. He is meticulous in his planning, with every last minor detail accounted for, so his side are fully prepared come match-day. The media and the world witnessed it first hand last season as the controversial ‘Spygate’ encounter grabbed the attention of football fans across the country. 

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Bielsa silenced the press when he produced a PowerPoint presentation which went on for well over an hour, showing the depths he goes into to ensure Leeds are ready for anything that comes their way, one example being watching all 51 Derby games from the 2017/18 season. 

Whilst Bielsa is yet to master fluent English, his hard work analysing his opponents produces fruitful results and will help him master the Championship this season. Of course, other managers are doing their ‘homework’, but are they really doing it to this level? It seems unlikely.

Keeping Bielsa at the club for another season was key off field business for the Whites, as the Argentine is a man both the players and fans have a huge amount of faith in. The fluid, free flowing football was played at a high-intensity excited Elland Road last season and would have resulted in promotion had the finishing in certain games been of a better standard. The 1-0 defeat at home to Sheffield United in last season’s crunch match in March, where the woodwork was hit twice, stands out as one glaring example.

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With the squad now comfortable with Bielsa's style, it is now down to Patrick Bamford and the club's other forwards to tidy up in the finishing department. If this can be done, Leeds look certain for promotion.

Another important factor is the vital experience the squad gained last season when they made the playoffs, especially the youngsters. There is no doubt that there is a huge amount of pressure when you wear the Leeds shirt. This pressure got to members of the side last season, such as Kiko Casilla, who put in a rash display in that defeat against Derby. However, as the saying goes, sometimes you have to fail to succeed. Leicester, Brighton and Watford are examples of this over the last eight seasons. They all failed in the playoffs before being promoted automatically soon after.

Bielsa successfully embedded youth last season, with Jack Clarke, Jamie Shackleton and Tyler Roberts just three of a number of breakthrough stars who contributed significantly towards the club's third place finish. Whilst the side ultimately fell short, they did win many pressure-cooker matches, such as the 4-0 dismantling of West Brom and the 1-0 win at Derby in the playoff first leg. 

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The pain the side took into the summer will have acted as motivation to achieve more. With youngsters such as Roberts and Clarke now less raw having gained a season of Championship football, they should be ready to play at a more consistent level this year. The faith Bielsa put in the youngsters last year will now reap the rewards as their development continues. Experienced men such as previous promotion winner Barry Douglas and midfielder Kalvin Phillips will further help this.

Yes, there will be some areas of concern, with Kemar Roofe edging closer to a move to Belgian side Anderlecht and leader Jansson encouraged to leave for Brentford.

However, Bamford has a good goalscoring record in the Championship and will be helped by the likes of Pablo Hernandez, who scored 12 times last season and already has two this term. Add Tyler Roberts, Mateusz Klich and new recruit Helder Costa who joined from Wolves to the mix and Leeds should have enough quality in the final third.

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Defensive problems? Think again. Bielsa has trusted youth with his selection of Ben White in defence who has impressed Leeds fans, who will hope he can be a good replacement for the departed Jansson.

If Leeds go on a good run, few teams in the Championship will be able to stop them. Now it's time to deliver.

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