'Imagine them with fans' - Leeds United legend Gordon Strachan sounds a Premier League warning

Leeds United ran 28km more than any of their Premier League rivals last season but Gordon Strachan believes the presence of fans will inspire them to cover even more ground.

Saturday, 14th August 2021, 7:02 am
FULL RETURN - Leeds United supporters will make a difference this season, Gordon Strachan believes. Pic: Getty

The Whites legend is excited about the prospect of Marcelo Bielsa’s squad competing in the top flight with the vociferous backing of supporters who had to miss out last season owing to the pandemic. After 16 years Leeds returned to the top flight and had to play all but three of their games behind closed doors.

Only a visit to Stamford Bridge, attended by 2,000 Chelsea season ticket holders, and the final two fixtures of the season at Southampton and at home to West Brom, took place in front of a live audience. But Leeds have not played in a full stadium since they beat Huddersfield in the Championship in March 2020.

That game was followed by a three-month suspension of the football season and it is only now that England’s Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted, that fans can make their return in full.

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Today, Bielsa’s men travel to bitter rivals Manchester United to get the season under way, hoping to match, if not better the ninth-place finish they achieved on their top-flight return.

All the talk at Elland Road is of a tougher second season and how raised expectations will be added to all the other difficulties faced in the first season.

Strachan expects Bielsa, known for his meticulous planning each summer ahead of a new season, to come fully prepared for 2021/22.

“Teams have had a right good look at Leeds but I imagine Marcelo is now thinking ‘how are other teams thinking about us and how do you think they’ll try and stop us?’ so he’ll have a plan for this adjustment,” said the man who captained the Whites to the 1991/92 First Division title in their second season after promotion.

“You wonder what teams will do to try and combat it but Leeds will always have that fitness level in their arsenal.”

They will also have the energy generated by a packed Elland Road.

Everton will be the first side to visit LS11 to play in front of a full stadium when they make the trip to West Yorkshire on Saturday, August 21.

Strachan knows first hand how it feels to play in the din Leeds fans create and, given the Whites’ success in empty stadiums, expects the crowd to lift Bielsa’s men to greater heights.

“We live off the crowd,” he told The YEP.

“There are certain places in the football world where it can take your breath away at times. Elland Road is one of them. Celtic Park is another, Liverpool is another, places where the fans can make it like that. Fans are huge. Leeds have managed to do it without the participation of the fans. If you look at Celtic and Liverpool, it looked like they missed their fans in a big way.

At Leeds, players seem to be able to do it without, so imagine the force they’re going to be with fans behind them. I think you can get another few kilometres out of the team with fans behind you. It’s fun. It’s great fun to play in front of them.”

Leeds under Bielsa were always going to provoke interest and intrigue on their long-awaited Premier League return but they’ve long been a club who add something different to the spectacle of English football and the fans are key to that.

The prospect of staying for just one season and suffering relegation before fans could watch their team take on the country’s elite was enough to make Victor Orta consider throwing himself into the River Aire, and the expectation last term was simply to retain Premier League status.

Leeds achieved it in style, finishing ninth by playing the same attractive brand of football that lit a fire under the fanbase in the Championship. They won admirers across the world and, unexpectedly for a club who have not often courted popularity with fans of other clubs, became a second-favourite team for many.

Strachan expected them to add something unique to the Premier League and they did not disappoint him: “The Premier League has a lot to be thankful to Leeds United’s players, staff and Marcelo for, in particular for producing football that’s not guaranteed them a win but guaranteed entertainment.”

He expects the fans to give the rest of the country the full, undiluted Leeds United experience, when they return.

“I thought at the time crowds would maybe be back in by last Christmas and the Leeds crowd would add to it as well,” he said.

“The fact that Leeds have added to the product without the fans makes you think, just imagine them with the fans.”