Tony Dorigo has tipped Jack Harrison for a big 2019/20 season and predicts automatic promotion for Leeds United – although there are some ifs and buts.
The Whites legend, who travelled out to the nation of his birth for the pre-season friendlies against Manchester United and Western Sydney, has the same high hopes and concerns as many fans.
On one hand, he believes there will be a natural improvement in the squad now that they’re well accustomed to boss Marcelo Bielsa’s ways.
He hopes Helder Costa will be a difference maker and that the club can get better value from this season’s loan signings.
And he expects some of the younger players to step up and make greater contributions.
But the former England defender also questions whether the club have enough in reserve at centre-half and if missed chances will once again prove costly.
There is, he thinks, a tangible benefit to be had from continuity.
“If you look back at last season, the big difference now will be that all the players understand what Marcelo wants,” he said.
“The tactics, the fitness levels, none of that is going to be new.
“They’ve had a year of learning, growing and getting fitter and stronger.
“Last year it was all brand new, a bit of a shock to the system.
“It wouldn’t have been this time round and I think, just because of that, the team will improve.”
The Adelaide native doesn’t put too much stock in what he saw in the friendlies Down Under, preferring instead to wait and see what the squad look like when they’re fully assembled.
Leeds split the group, keeping many key operators at home to work on fitness or, for new boys like Costa and Ben White, to get up to speed on the style of play.
“It’s pre-season, it’s a long way to travel out there,” said Dorigo.
“Against Manchester United we had a 20-minute spell in the back end of that first half when we played extremely well.
“I think, like last season, it’s always important to make sure you capitalise on those good bits of play and score.
“We had one or two chances and didn’t take them and, after that, the class of Manchester United told against us.
“It’s hard to make too much of it with that many players left behind.
“When they all come together again we’re better able to have a look.”
That tendency to create but not finish opportunities in front of goal is something that worries the 1991/92 season Division One winner.
Patrick Bamford has come in for criticism over perceived wastefulness but Dorigo wants to see others chipping in when, as is almost guaranteed by the way Leeds play, chances arise.
“That was one of my big concerns.
“At one point we were creating a ridiculous amount of chances but we were in the bottom three for converting them and that doesn’t make too much sense to me.
“I think the positive thing, the important thing, is that with our style of play we do create those chances but, at the same time, we have to start taking them. I don’t think it can all be aimed at the strikers, per se, because other players need to step up.
“The wide men need to weigh in with their share of goals as well, obviously our centre-halves at set-pieces need to score, it’s a whole team thing.
“I’d love Bamford to get a couple early on and off he goes, but it needs to come from all round the place.”
Manchester City winger Harrison, on loan for a second season at Elland Road, is one potential source of goals.
Dorigo has a hunch, based on what he witnessed in Australia, that the 22-year-old can and should improve on the four he bagged last season.
There are others, too, he likes to think will make a big impact all over the pitch.
“One player in particular I think will have a really good season is Jack Harrison,” he said.
“I thought he looked really sharp in both games that I saw and he’s certainly one of those that can aim for about 10 goals this season; that’d be a big improvement. Costa is a really good player, proven at this level; maybe he could make a difference.
“You look at Jack Clarke, another year on for him, I think Shackleton will play a bigger part this season, Barry Douglas had a lot of injuries last season but he’s coming back and hopefully he stays fit.
“There’s reasons for improvement.”
The departure of Pontus Jansson, a man present in the heart of the defence for 42 2018/19 games, has left not only a hole in the Leeds backline, but a question mark in the minds of fans over the club’s strength in that department.
Leeds have added White, a loanee from Brighton and Hove Albion, and have other options besides skipper Liam Cooper.
“The biggest one will be, certainly with Pontus Jansson going, whether we’ve got enough at the back,” said Dorigo.
“That is the question mark for me.”
If Leeds are to add to the squad before the transfer window shuts, it seems likely that the loan market will be where they turn and that’s one area in which Dorigo hopes to see a big improvement.
“The loan signings we had last season didn’t really work well at all.
“If you think of Blackman, Baker, Izzy Brown, none of those really added too much to the squad.
“This time round, the loan signings we’ve got – Costa is still technically a loan, Jack Clarke is back, Ben White – hopefully that side of it will be much more positive.”
Despite his concerns, Dorigo is convinced that Leeds can go ‘a little farther’ than last season.
The key, for him, is learning from the 2018/19 failures.
“In the betting we’re favourites, everyone thinks we’re favourites, that’s tough but I think Leeds last season played with a lot of extra pressure on them anyway, expectation is always there.
“I still think that what he [Bielsa] got out of the side last season was quite incredible, if you think that the previous year they finished 13th.
“I look at the team, they’re working really hard and they’re a solid unit.
“I don’t see any reason why, if we can play to our potential, we can’t get automatic promotion.
“Like last season, there’s no doubt our best was better than anyone else in the division, but when it came to the death we made too many mistakes and one or two didn’t perform as we’d seen before.
“We’re still good enough to get to that position again, it’s if we’ve learned from what happened last season.
“If we do, I think we’ll go up.”