Leeds United's audacious mindset key to a season the Premier League never saw coming
So this is your famous Premier League.
Leeds United have taken the sting out of the ‘best league in the world’ and made it a fun place to be.
The latter was expected, Marcelo Bielsa’s men were always going to entertain with the football that lit up the Championship, but the former was by no means a formality.
As so many newly-promoted teams have found out, including both of Leeds’ fellow promoted sides this season, you can very quickly find yourself swimming in deep water in the top flight.
It’s also very possible to be competitive in lots of games without taking the results you might feel you deserve. See Brighton as this season’s example.
Ironically enough it was at the Amex Stadium, in the wake of one of Leeds’ poorer displays, that a journalist asked Bielsa if it was enough to be known as entertainers if you had nothing to show for it at the end of the season.
Well Leeds have entertained, mightily, in ways both expected and unexpected, and what they have to show for it is Premier League status. That was not Bielsa’s overriding goal, but it was absolutely vital and it’s more than Fulham, West Brom or Sheffield United have to show for their collective efforts.
What’s more, they have a place in the top 10 and a base upon which to build their master vision.
What it took to reach this point was the very same things that led Leeds to the Championship title.
They outran everyone else, they pressed teams feverishly and then showed that the same one-two that was enough to unlock Hull City, was enough to do the same at Manchester City.
The football has, since Bielsa arrived and instantly transformed the way this squad plays, been a joy watch.
The mindset of the team has been key. Having the audacity to try and play the same swashbuckling style that worked in the Championship against the country’s elite, some of the best sides in Europe and the world no less, is very Leeds in nature.
That audacity was never more evident than when Stuart Dallas looked up and saw two options – taking the ball into a safe area to try and secure a point at the Etihad or setting off towards goal to go and win it. That desire to win, a belief that they could compete as equals and the legs, lungs and technical proficiency to turn mentality into goals, victories and points, runs right through the squad.
No one saw it coming, either.
No one would have predicted an unbeaten home record against the self-styled ‘big six’ or a win with 10-men at the home of the best team in the division.
What is most impressive is that while the new signings certainly added the required quality to lift the level of the team, the entire operation has always been underpinned by what was already in place at Thorp Arch.
Who knew Liam Cooper could produce such a solid set of performances against world-class strikers? Or that Pascal Struijk would become one of the stars of the season? Who knew that Dallas was actually a goalscoring number eight? And who felt Patrick Bamford was capable of scoring 16 times in 37 top-tier outings?
Not the pundits, not the opposition fans and not the Premier League.
It was always going to be an adventure but it was never going to be a jolly. Leeds took themselves seriously and Bielsa took each game as if it was his and his side’s last.
Never was the focus allowed to shift to any bigger picture, each step meticulously planned and executed, one after another until Leeds looked up and found themselves breathing rarefied air.
This is not the summit. It is simply base camp. But after a season more sure-footed than anyone could have expected, Leeds are on the mountain and looking up.