Transfer verdicts, Marcelo Bielsa’s dilemma and hope – Leeds United report card

Transfer verdicts, Marcelo Bielsa's dilemma and hope - Leeds United report card

Leeds’ much-needed win over Watford has given Marcelo Bielsa’s men breathing space after a mixed start to the season.

Until then injuries had bitten hard as Leeds welcomed fans back to Elland Road without the immediate fireworks hoped for.

So what’s gone on so far? And will it improve? Here is Beren Cross’ verdict on the season so far.

Read more: Leeds United fans react to Victor Orta’s bold claimon Leeds starlet

How has the season gone so far? (Give mark out of 10)

It’s been pretty underwhelming given how high the bar was set last season, especially with that rip-roaring finish to 20/21 which had one defeat in the last 11 matches. The Whites may have faced three of the current top five in their opening seven games, but draws at Burnley and Newcastle United felt disappointing.

A first league win of the season before last weekend was vital heading into this second international break. There have been signs of improvement across the last three matches and the hope is, with the first victory under their belt, they can now kick on into a streak of clashes which look appetising on paper. 4/10

Verdict on the new signings?

It is still early days and that’s why it would be harsh to be too down on the new faces, given they are still settling into this Marcelo Bielsa regime.

Junior Firpo has had a challenging start since arriving for the best part of £13m from Barcelona. His defending has been erratic and left the side exposed at times, though his attacking play has been promising.

Junior Firpo was impressive for Leeds against Watford on Saturday.

Jack Harrison is technically a new signing despite spending the previous three seasons on loan at Elland Road. He has been so-so in the opening few matches, demonstrating that irresistible first touch, but also a familiarly frustrating final product.

Like Firpo, it’s early days for Daniel James, who only checked in on deadline day. He has played a lot more than we expected because of Harrison’s recent Covid diagnosis and an obliques issue. He had his best game against Watford. Pace and acceleration is evident, but yet to see it really terrorising on the attack.

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How has the manager performed so far?

Not for the first time, Bielsa’s decision to run with a tight squad at Elland Road has been tested acutely by a horrid run of injuries and suspension in the opening six weeks of the season.

Every club encounters injuries, but there is no doubt the Leeds bench has looked especially inexperienced when rivals may have ridden the storm out with more quality waiting in the wings. At St James’ Park last month, the average age of the bench was 19-years-old.

Bielsa’s tactics are well known now, as is his absolute commitment to that philosophy, whatever the circumstances. Given the success that approach has brought in the past three years, it is impossible to be too critical of this season’s difficult start.

Hammerings like those suffered at the hands of Manchester United and Liverpool can be tolerated when Leeds dish out their own lashings with the same, attacking approach. Sadly, those big wins are yet to materialise at this early stage.

There have not been too many selection decisions to pull Bielsa up on either. His squad is so small, the team often picks itself.

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa.

Biggest surprise so far

Aside from the results, there hasn’t been anything hugely surprising on a personal or specific level. A lot of players have struggled to reach the level they were at last season, but with how high the bar was set, I wouldn’t necessarily describe that as a surprise.

On the positive end of the spectrum, Crysencio Summerville and Jamie Shackleton have taken steps forward. The former has not had a lot of senior exposure yet, but he has lit up under-23 games since the start of the summer and Bielsa has acknowledged he is knocking on the door.

How do you rate the season so far?

Shackleton, another of the Leeds boys developed by the academy, was first blooded by Bielsa in 2018 and after steady progression with his match time saw a plateauing in his development last term.

Injuries have been an issue at times, but this has been a promising start to the season for the 22-year-old, who has taken the chances opened up to him by injuries and suspension to others.

What are the team missing?

A central midfielder. It was the narrative which dominated the transfer window and has predictably continued to be a talking point given the club did not get one in.

As soon as one or two absences hit the middle of the park, the soft underbelly and shallow depth in the squad is exposed in the centre.

Rodrigo flattered to deceive in there before improving as a striker in recent games, while Stuart Dallas and Mateusz Klich have had their struggles in there too across the opening six weeks.

Conor Gallagher and Lewis O’Brien were seriously looked at, but neither deal happened for understandable reasons. However, it still feels like Victor Orta should have pursued someone else.

Adam Forshaw has made rapid progress at the start of this campaign after nearly two years out the team with injury problems, but he continues to suffer with niggles after so long out and cannot yet be considered a reliable option in the centre.

Do you think they’ll do better, worse or about the same as pre-season predictions?

It is still early days, but six points from the first 21 available has certainly curbed expectations for this campaign.

Based on how well they finished last season, there were high hopes of a repeated ninth-place finish, if not better.

Some merit can be put into losing only three of the first seven, even if there has only been one win thus far. The performances do leave hope they will be well clear of the bottom three come May, but getting into the top half looks a big ask right now.

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