The woes Sheffield United encountered last season en route to relegation, a year after completing a magnificent return to the top flight, gave further credence to suggestions that a second campaign among the elite is more difficult than a first.
Chris Wilder’s Blades, like Ipswich and Reading before them, clinched a top 10 finish as a newly-promoted club, before suffering a dramatic collapse in form and dropping out of the Premier League at the end of their second season. For Sheffield United at least, recruitment that did not move them forward or add the necessary depth and the break down of Wilder's relationship with the club owner Prince Abdullah combined to make their second season as much of a nightmare as their first was a dream. Leeds believe they did improve the squad this summer and by all accounts everyone at Elland Road is singing from the same hymn sheet, as they have been since Marcelo Bielsa's 2019 arrival, which should give fans at least a measure of reassurance.
READ: 'I think we improved the squad'Whether or not the much talked about syndrome exists – there are plenty of examples of teams who retained top-flight status handily in the season following their first since promotion – Orta still believes Leeds will encounter more difficulty this time round.
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He is not alone.
Whites defender Robin Koch said this summer: “I think the second year is more difficult than the first. We have to be really well prepared, it’s going to be a hard season.”
The German international cited the lack of surprise factor in Leeds’ favour as a more well-known quantity, something fellow defender Luke Ayling also brought up.
“It’s our second year in it, we know it’s going to be a tougher season, people know about us and, from a personal point of view, players have played against you, they might see some things they can exploit,” Ayling told the YEP.
Patrick Bamford agreed with his team-mates, but also predicted more of a challenge for the Whites based on increased expectation.
“I think last year there wasn’t any expectation, apart from our own fans,” said the England striker.
“I think the general media and public saw us as just another team that came up to the Premier League.
“I think now we’ve had the season we did, people start having higher expectations of us and expect us to be finishing in the same spot and doing as well as we did. So there’s that added pressure and the fact that teams will be used to us and try to make it more difficult, because they’ve had one look at us last year. It’s not going to catch them by surprise.”
Orta simply looks upon the Premier League as the pinnacle of footballing competitions, because outside the top six there are no surprise results. Anyone can best anyone on any given day.
“It is the theory about the second year,” he told the YEP.
“Everyone says the second year is harder than the first year, I agree with that.
“It is the most difficult competition in the world. It is really equal. There are teams that invest a lot of money, a big gap between the investment of the top six and the rest of the others.
“One thing for me that is really clear, between seventh and 20th all can beat all. That is really clear, it is equal.”
The task for Leeds, in the eyes of their director of football, is again a simple one – staying up.
“Obviously you need to try to get points and add points,” he said.
“Be positive in a mid-table position and then decide what can be our future.
“We must try to keep the Premier League, try to get the points then the goal is not defined. But everyone knows that the second year is harder than the first year.”
Leeds return to action this Sunday with a game against ‘big six’ club Liverpool, looking for their first win of the new season, before a run of several fixtures against teams they should consider their competition for mid-table places.
Nothing is won or lost in the first three months of the season but a picture will soon emerge of just how difficult Leeds’ second season is going to be.