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Lewis Baker eyes rise to prominence playing the Leeds United way

AIMING HIGH: Leeds United's Lewis Baker takes on Las Palmas' David Garcia. 'Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
AIMING HIGH: Leeds United's Lewis Baker takes on Las Palmas' David Garcia. 'Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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Lewis Baker knows what a promotion bid looks like, albeit from a vantage point in the stands. He and Middlesbrough failed to dovetail last season but a year on Teesside opened his eyes to the attributes of a competitive Championship club.

There are others in the squad at Leeds United with that same knowledge. Patrick Bamford, who joined Leeds from Boro on Tuesday, was at The Riverside with Baker and appeared in the play-off final in 2015.

Everyone knows what the Championship’s like. We’re in for a long season and by the time you get to the end of it, the points are always really close. You can’t ever take your foot off the gas.

Leeds United’s Lewis Baker

Barry Douglas, United’s first permanent signing of the summer, travelled on the runaway train which took Wolverhampton Wanderers to the title in April. Adam Forshaw is another former Boro player who found a way out of the league two years ago.

Baker barely featured during his loan from Chelsea to Boro – six starts and 12 appearances over the course of an entire campaign – but his frustration over Tony Pulis’ style of football, a style he saw as contrary to his strengths, did not devalue the entire stay.

“To be fair, when I was at Middlesbrough the lads with me were amazing,” Baker said. “Despite my bad experience, I was helping them and they were helping me every day. The team camaraderie was really high at the time.

“If the play-offs come now, we’ve got a few experienced players in the squad who know what the play-offs are about. But everyone knows what the Championship is like. We’re in for a long season and by the time you get to the end of it, the points are always really close. You can’t ever take your foot off the gas.

“Hopefully, I play far more games than I did last season. Hopefully we get promotion because I always go into every competition aiming for the highest thing that I can. My aim is to improve as a player, definitely.”

Baker, who Leeds took on a season-long loan from Stamford Bridge, might need some more patience in the short term.

Marcelo Bielsa left him out of United’s more prominent friendlies during the summer and named him on the bench for Sunday’s win over Las Palmas. Baker appeared at the start of the second half but was substituted two minutes from time.

Bielsa has given a fairly clear indication of how his team might line up in Leeds’ first league game against Stoke City this weekend, though certain issues need attention.

Pontus Jansson is back after World Cup duty and should be a shoe-in in the centre of defence. Forshaw, a key component in Bielsa’s tactical rethink, has a toe injury and is a major doubt.

Problems like Forshaw’s underline the need for deep resources in the Championship. It might be that his injury opens the door for Baker to make a quick impression.

“There’s great competition in the squad,” Baker said.

“That’s all I can say. There are good players here and everyone’s got to give 100 per cent.

“Not just in the games but in training every day.”

Bielsa insisted on that when he walked in the door, saying he expected the “work ethic to be shared”.

The success or otherwise of his labour through the summer will be demonstrated by Sunday’s televised clash with Stoke at Elland Road.

Leeds do not ever lack television exposure but Bielsa’s presence has increased their box-office appeal. A big audience over the weekend is almost assured.

“Stoke have just come down from the Premier League, probably the best league in the world,” Baker said. “All of last season they’ve been playing against some of the best players in the world and some of the best teams in the world.

“They’re going to have great experience but coming into the Championship, I don’t think they can take it easy because it’s not an easy league, especially with this being the first game. We’ll be ready

for it.”