Leeds United assistant Pep Clotet is predicting “one of the most difficult seasons ever in the Championship” amid mounting activity in the transfer market.
The former Swansea City number two, who followed new United head coach Garry Monk to Elland Road this month, said he and the club’s players would be ready for a heated battle in the Championship next term after relegation from the Premier League dropped Newcastle United and Aston Villa into the second tier.
Newcastle are odds-on favourites to respond with an immediate promotion and the Tyneside club have stepped up their transfer business dramatically with two bids in excess of a combined £20m.
Manager Rafael Benitez is close to landing £12m-rated Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie and Crystal Palace striker Dwight Gayle, a player who is likely to cost in the region of £10m.
Villa, meanwhile, completed their first deal with the £3m arrival of centre-back Tommy Elphick from Bournemouth last week – a defender who Leeds were interested in – and former United striker Ross McCormack is being heavily linked with a move to Villa Park from Fulham.
Leeds pulled off their first signing of the summer on Tuesday, finalising a deal for Kalmar forward Marcus Antonsson for a fee which could rise to £2m, and other arrivals are planned at Elland Road before the Championship season begins on the weekend of August 6.
Monk and Clotet met United’s squad en masse for the first time as training got underway at Thorp Arch on Monday and the Spaniard stressed the importance of an organised and diligent pre-season ahead of a highly competitive Championship campaign.
“We’re going to be prepared and we’re going to wish that a little bit of luck goes our way,” Clotet said. “At the same time, with our feet on the ground, we know it’s going to be a tough competition.
“It’s got to be one of the most difficult seasons ever in the Championship but I look forward to it. What we’ve done is to analyse all the Championship games to see exactly how the competition is. You analyse how teams attack, how teams defend, how you have to fix a little bit the way you want to play so you can handle this kind of competition.
“With our feet on the ground and with everyone working together we’ll see if we can take the club forward.”
Clotet, a coach who never played professionally but earned his UEFA pro licence at the age of 26, was a key ally of Monk’s at Swansea and United’s head coach secured him as his assistant at Elland Road shortly after his own appointment.
Both men remained out of work after Monk’s dismissal as Swansea boss last December, a decision which saw Clotet leave the Liberty Stadium too, and Clotet told United’s website: “I’m excited for it (the job at Leeds) because of the things I knew already.
“I’ve been here before and I’ve followed Leeds before. I came here to look at the facilities three years ago and I was impressed by the size of the club.
“I also remember the game that Leeds played against Barca in the Champions League. Leeds are a famous team in Spain.
“We’re working on a six-week plan to get the players fit and to introduce all of the tactical things we want from the team. It’s a very important time for us – you get to know the players by working with them on a day-to-day basis. To be prepared for the beginning of the season, we have to use these six weeks very wisely.
“It’s important for the players not only to get fit but to get fit for the way that we want to play.
“Fitness is very specific and you want their bodies to be ready to produce the football we want.”
United’s season starts with a visit to Queens Park Rangers on August 7, a game moved to a Sunday to accomodate a live broadcast by Sky Sports, and two other fixtures have been rearranged on police advice.
Leeds’ match away at Blackburn Rovers will kick-off 24 hours later than planned on Wednesday, February 1 and their Yorkshire derby at Huddersfield Town on Saturday, February 4 is now scheduled for a 12.30pm kick-off.