Leeds United fans embark on new season with 'better vibe' but big question lingers

On Saturday, the energy at Elland Road will be worlds away from the atmosphere at the last Premier League fixture to take place at the home of Leeds United.

Saturday, 6th August 2022, 6:00 am

The Whites’ season opener against Wolves marks an opportunity to blow the cobwebs off a season of hurt and set the scene for a new era under Jesse Marsch, who is now fully bedded in in West Yorkshire after fighting fire for the first twelve weeks of his tenure.

Though LS11 is unlikely to play host to the stony silence and unhinged euphoria which followed Danny Welbeck’s opener and Pascal Struijk’s late headed equaliser back in May, the gravity of the occasion will not result from the stakes of the game but by the weight of fans’ expectation as they try Marsch-ball on for size for the first time.

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There’s change in the air at Leeds United, and with so many variables combining in the cauldron of Elland Road, it’s tough to know what to predict.

Nathan Birch, 32, from Rotherham, has experienced all the highs and lows of Leeds United, from a Europa League trip to Marítimo all the way down to slogging through League One fixtures as a season ticket holder and as he takes his seat in the South Stand on Saturday, he won’t be able to trust his optimism.

“To be honest, I've got a better vibe going about this season,” he said. “I mean but, then again, last season - finishing ninth under Bielsa, I did expect us to build. I was wrong.

“I've got quite a good feeling. I think we're going to be around about mid-table.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Fans of Leeds United react in the crowd during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Brighton & Hove Albion at Elland Road on May 15, 2022 in Leeds, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

“We’ve sold two of our big superstars, Phillips and Raphinha, but I think we have spent wisely from that money. We've got a bit more depth this year.”

“I'm very excited to see Brenden Aaronson and Marc Roca on Saturday.

“Everything came through Aaronson in the Cagliari game, it kind of reminded me of when we got Pablo Hernández, so I'm hoping that this guy could do it all season.

“I think Marc Roca is gonna be very, very good. He looks very aggressive on the ball - it's something we need in the middle. I think, with losing Phillips, he will be a massive, massive help for us in that area.”

LEEDS, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Pascal Struijk of Leeds United celebrates scoring their side's first goal during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Brighton & Hove Albion at Elland Road on May 15, 2022 in Leeds, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

The 2022/2023 SkyBet Fan Hope survey found that 74% of Whites fans are satisfied with the club’s recruitment after United have added five senior players and a pair of promising young prospects to their ranks.

Still, though, 63% said they think a striker is needed, while 30% believe left-back is a position of priority.

This week, United chairman Andrea Radrizzani expressed regret about the extensive transfer saga, which the Whites eventually lost, surrounding Charles De Ketelaere. But Birch wonders if, before long, Leeds fans will have forgotten the Club Brugge forward’s name.

“A big signing was tying the Joe Gelhardt contract down, because I think there's gonna be a lot of interest and it’s going to be a great season for him,” Birch said.

Nathan Birch with his brother and best friend in the South Stand at Elland Road.

“I'd say he could get around about 12 to 15 goals - if he gets the game time he deserves - and become one of our main strikers.

“He’ll be a breath of fresh air, like a new signing this season.”

The other objective, however, can’t be compromised, according to Birch.

“There’s got to be a left-back,” said Birch, who has been a season ticket holder on and off for the past 15 years.

“We really, really struggled there last season.

“I know we signed Firpo, he's come highly-rated from Barcelona but from what I've seen of the guy, he's not really done anything yet.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - JULY 31: A vendor sells Leeds United scarves during the Pre-Season friendly match between Leeds United and Cagliari at Elland Road on July 31, 2022 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

“I know he's been in and out of the squad, injured, but then again, that is a massive concern - if your main left-back is out for that many games, don't play regularly.

“I know it was only a lower team, Blackpool, but I thought Firpo looked absolutely excellent in that game. I thought ‘oh, we might go on and see him play more, be a bit better’ but then he went and got injured now, so I think we have to get a left back.

“It's a must.”

Whether or not fans can rely on their gut feeling about this season, it’s too early to judge whether United are in for a rerun of their barn-storming ninth-placed finish or if it’ll be squeaky bum time once more for the run-in.

For now, though, Leeds fans are gearing up for a return to the noise, the excitement and the camaraderie offered by a sold-out Elland Road.

“Saturday is my day,” Birch said.

“You know, I get to get away from the wife, the kids, I get to see the lads, have a few beers, and obviously Elland Road, everybody knows, it's one of the greatest football grounds in the world. The atmosphere is always electric.

“I'm looking forward to getting back and also just to see how we handle this first game.”

“I'm very, very excited to see how it goes and I can't wait to get back to Elland Road.”

LEEDS, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Marc Roca of Leeds United runs with the ball during the Pre-Season friendly match between Leeds United and Cagliari at Elland Road on July 31, 2022 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)
LEEDS, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Leeds United fans support their team during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Brighton & Hove Albion at Elland Road on May 15, 2022 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)