Leeds United are on the verge of returning to the Premier League (PL) for the first time since 2004. But a lot has changed since the Whites were last in the top flight. It’s now arguably harder than ever for clubs, even of Leeds’ stature, to maintain their PL status – never mind compete for European qualification. One club that’s had a pretty good go of it, however, is Wolves. After an impressive first season back, they currently occupy the ‘best of the rest’ position, sitting just below the ‘big six’ in the PL table, led by Nuno Espírito Santo. Can Leeds achieve the same?
Avoiding The Drop
Want a rough idea of how brutal the top flight is? Consider the current bottom three. 2017 Championship play-off winners, Huddersfield Town, sit alongside newly promoted Cardiff and Fulham. The last thing Leeds want when they do go up, is to crash straight back down with a load of PL salaries on the wage bill. The solution? Take a look at the most successful PL newcomers – Wolverhampton Wanderers. What have they done that Cardiff and Fulham failed to do – and can Leeds replicate it?
Signing The Right Players
First and foremost, clubs need to spend money to stay in the PL. Warnock made clear from the start that Cardiff would be taking a slow and steady approach, rather than splashing the cash. They’re not afraid of returning to the Championship, if they have the “building blocks” to come back up again. Despite twice almost matching their record transfer fee (£11 million) with the signing of Josh Murphy and Bobby Reid, the Bluebirds were relatively thrifty in the summer window.
Fulham, on the other hand, spent money – but not always wisely. A case in point was their £30 million swoop for André-Frank Zambo Anguissa. Their record transfer proved underwhelming almost immediately, being outrun in the centre of the park by almost all of Fulham’s opponents. Credit where credit is due – Aleksandar Mitrovic was well worth £22 million, but the team simply lacked the depth required to score goals when Mitrovic was injured or just marked out of the game.
How did Wolves differ? They spent money in all the right places. Nuno brought in several players that would play a key role in their 2018-19 squad, from £10 million Willy Boly at the back and £5 million midfielder João Moutinho to the permanent signing of 2017-18 top scorer Diogo Jota for an undisclosed fee. They also signed Rui Patrício on a free and utilised the loan market to add Raúl Jiménez and Jonny Otto to the ranks. In short, they weren’t afraid to use the transfer window to add key players, who went straight into the first team. Based on his summer signings in 2018 – Bamford, Casilla, Douglas and Harrison on loan – we could see Bielsa replicate this approach for Leeds.
The Style of Play
Above all else, Wolves’ success has been down to their unique style of play. Nuno sets his team up to play possession football, slowly carving out chances throughout the game. High wing backs, deep midfielders and creative wingers are complemented by the impressive passing range of their defensive players to create a team that’s hard for even some of the best to beat.
As you can see on the sportsbet.io soccer news portal, Wolves have seen off Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham at home in their first PL season, as well as holding Arsenal and Manchester City to a draw and knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup.
Fortunately, this style of play bears some similarities to that of Bielsa’s Leeds side. Most of all because of its fluidity. Under Bielsa, Leeds are flexible and versatile, with wing backs pushing forward and midfielders dropping back into defence, switching formations seamlessly throughout the game. Bielsa combines this with a high press that has delivered undeniable success for Guardiola’s Manchester City – a good omen, surely?
While it’s impossible to predict how Leeds would fare in the PL, these two key elements – the signings and style of play – will undoubtedly play a huge role. From what we know now, the signs are promising…
Can Leeds Follow in the Footsteps of Wolves?