The key improvement Leeds United have made, a shock approach and Whites at The Euros - Dominic Matteo
What more can this Leeds United team do under Marcelo Bielsa?
That’s what I was left wondering after they took five points from games against Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United.
For a newly-promoted team that kind of return is massive.
There was no Raphinhaa, Rodrigo or Liam Cooper for the last two games, so imagine when we get the whole group fit and start to see the best of them all.
We haven’t seen that from everyone this season, some have had up and down seasons with injuries, but Leeds haven’t moaned about it like other clubs, they’ve just got on with it.
I’m very proud of the club this year, how they’ve gone about it on the pitch, the way they’ve conducted themselves off it and what they’ve achieved. There are no big-timers, everyone is on the same page and that makes me proud as a Leeds fan.
The Manchester United game showed we’re making improvements, too, and getting better as the season goes on.
It was flat in the first half, but while Manchester United had good possession Leeds got a bit stronger. I think we were a bit more physical in the second half, we livened up a little bit. The last game was a really heavy defeat, at Old Trafford, and sometimes when you play against a team that’s done that to you, you can be a bit hesitant at first.
The way the game went, it felt like for the first time Bielsa was happy with a draw, with the Robin Koch substitution and the way Leeds played. I was a bit shocked because Leeds usually just keep going for it, but we’ve maybe seen a little bit lately that we recognise we can’t win every single game.
Manchester United knew they would be in for a tough game and I’m glad we didn’t disappoint. They had a lot of pace in the side and we managed it really well. As a former defender it’s one area I’ve been saying we need to get better at and I think in the last three games we’ve been outstanding. The team looks pretty solid right now and compared with the start of the season it’s night and day.
If we keep making those improvements, it bodes well for next season. The club will be looking at next season right now. We know we’re safe, we know we’ve had a great season, what do we need to do to improve on it and go after a Europa League place next season? Are there players who need to move on, players we need?
We need another striker and another left-back, for me, a really solid one. Gjanni Alioski is finishing the season pretty well but it’s an area I’ve highlighted before. When I played left-back I mainly stayed back and defended but nowadays you have to be so good at both defending and attacking, you’re like a second winger. It’ll be interesting to see who they bring in because the full-backs are so important for starting attacks. Luke Ayling has been outstanding, Stuart Dallas has done well at left-back although he’s better in the engine room, for me.
We need more goals, too. If I was a Leeds player I’d be desperate to do better next season and start thinking about a European place, so that will take a lot of hard work, consistency and more goals.
Patrick Bamford has been excellent but we do need someone else, a couple of players to be hitting 15 maybe. We make a lot of chances and we miss a few, so we need to sharpen up there.
I’ve been really impressed with the players who came in last summer though and next season I think they’ll be even better. This season, our first back after so many years, was a learning curve and it’s been a long one, too.
Leeds won the Championship last summer, they’ve put together a great season in the Premier League after a short summer break and with the Euros in mind the fatigue side of it has to be factored in for some in the squad. Nowadays most clubs have the the ability to handle that, look after the players and ensure they’re not left burnt out.
Tiredness will be the last thing on the minds of the lads hoping to head to the Euros, however. You’d expect all of those players to be involved in the final games. Some have had mixed seasons with injuries, like Rodrigo, but if they get that opportunity this summer it will be a terrific end to 2020-21.
I never had that opportunity to play in a Euros or a World Cup, which I’ve always been gutted about, and they’ve got to grab it with both hands. Their confidence should be high and they can be important players for their national teams.
It’s brilliant so many Leeds players have got opportunities and you never know, we all remember Greece winning it, so one of them could be coming back to Thorp Arch as a champion.
Before that there are five games left, starting at Brighton on Saturday. They’ve been a funny team, they’ve played decent football without always getting results. They’re a nice team. No one wants to be called nice but I think they are. They need to be a bit nastier and more ruthless.
This is a big opportunity for Leeds to keep their momentum going and push forward for a big finish.