Leeds United sidestepped a foreign tour this year and for the first two weeks of pre-season training the weather came to them instead.
The British summertime has produced the heat which most of the club’s players experienced in Austria with Thomas Christiansen 12 months ago.
For much of May plans were afoot for Leeds to spend next week in Italy but complications with the schedule and the risk of the club suffering a financial loss at the end of the trip brought about a change of tack and a revised itinerary which will steer Marcelo Bielsa into the lower levels of the English pyramid. United’s friendlies begin a week today, away at Forest Green Rovers.
The run of fixtures facing Leeds has a certain tone to it: low-key in terms of opposition but intense in the way the matches have been packed together. Leeds will travel to the south of England three times and play six games in the space of 13 days. Bielsa’s squad, such as it is, are due to complete three full weeks of training before pulling on shirts.
With the Argentinian in charge, the significance of pre-season results compared to the substance of performances could hardly be smaller. The summer has given Bielsa a short window in which to overhaul the formation and the style which the players he inherited were used to.
At Forest Green’s New Lawn stadium next Tuesday, most of the focus will be on the structure of his line-up: the expected three-man defence, the role of his wing-backs, the influence of his ‘enganche’ – Argentina’s term for a number 10 – and the coherence of it all at the first attempt.
Forest Green, who tout themselves as football’s first vegan club, retained EFL status by the skin of their teeth in May, a point clear of relegation from League Two. The club, though, will be three games into their pre-season fixture list by the time they host Leeds.
Their players kicked off last Friday with a 2-0 win over non-league Brimscombe and Thrupp and meet Torquay United and Weston-super-Mare this week. Bielsa will have known little, if anything, of Forest Green before his appointment.
United’s other games will also be an education in the wider reaches of English football: York City, Southend United, Oxford United and Guiseley. Their last friendly, at home to Spain’s Las Palmas on July 29, will offer a little more familiarity. With the exception of Leeds’ trip to Southend, all of the matches were arranged before Bielsa took up a two-year contract at Elland Road.
Speaking at his inaugural press conference, the 62-year-old said: “I know the level at which our future opponents compete.
Departures from Elland Road are already close to double figures. All eyes are now on the deals that count.Phil Hay
“I can’t comment exactly on the standard of football because I’ve not see a lot of the leagues they’re in but I trust in the people here who’ve chosen those friendlies and set up the programme.”
In terms of recruitment, Bielsa is also in the club’s hands. Midfielder Lewis Baker, signed on loan from Chelsea on June 30, is a solitary new signing at Thorp Arch and Leeds are ticking towards Forest Green with numerous vacancies still open, the goalkeeping position not least. Having committed more than £2m a year to Bielsa’s salary, United are under pressure to deliver a squad to match and a squad which meets his requirements: leaner than last season but stronger in “four or five positions”.
Departures from Elland Road are already close to double figures. All eyes are now on the deals that count.