In the style that champions so often do, Leeds United found a way through a stubborn Swansea City side yesterday, and without ever really looking like their best.
Pablo Hernandez’s late goal has set Leeds up for a potential promotion party this week – if Brentford fail to beat Preston on Wednesday, then Leeds could seal their Premier League status with a win at home to Barnsley on the Thursday.
As close as they are to promotion, they’re still not quite there. But needless to say the planning for Leeds’ return to the Premier League has been in place for the past 16 years, and Marcelo Bielsa wouldn’t be the ‘messiah’ that he is if he didn’t have a few ideas for the potential return of top-flight football to Elland Road.
Speaking completely hypothetically at this point, Bielsa will have a fair bit of work to do in what’ll be a shortened summer period. The Premier League season is heading towards a September restart, and that really only gives clubs the month of August to recruit and resupply for what will be one of the more memorable seasons – hopefully the one where we see supporters back in the grounds.
Weak spots have been coming and going in this Leeds team throughout the season. The first place that Bielsa will likely look to strengthen is in goal. Then he’ll likely look for a more Premier League themed spine, a centre back perhaps, and some more prolific wingers. Most will fully expect Bielsa to recruit a Premier League striker, too.
Patrick Bamford – the Leeds United no.9 – has been the talk of most every game this season. Whether he’s scoring off both posts to cap a 5-0 win against Stoke City, or lunging for a header, only to head it straight at Freddie Woodman from six-yards out, Bamford has got Leeds fans talking like few of the club’s no.9s ever have.
He’ll likely be the first person to say he should’ve had more goals this season. He should’ve had one yesterday, and if it weren’t for Hernandez’s late winner then the Twitter hounds would’ve been out for him – you could see the weight lifted off the his shoulders when, as Hernandez ran off celebrating, Bamford took the ball out of the net and slammed it into the air.
Even the club captain Liam Cooper said earlier in the week that, although Bamford and his attacking counterparts could score more goals, so could the rest of the players. Goals need to start coming from all over the pitch. But one thing is guaranteed with Bamford – grit. Bamford under Bielsa looks like a shadow of the former striker he was, and he’s not once let the wavering criticism get the better of him.
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Bamford under Bielsa is a workhorse. The way that Leeds play and indeed most Premier League teams do is by pressing the last defender. Wearing them down until they make a mistake and then you pounce. Although Bamford is still developing that cutting edge in-front of goal, he’s developed a newfound sense of ‘doggedness’ that was and still is so typical of South American footballers – Bielsa’s personal effect on Bamford that is.
The Championship is a league growing fast. In the past decade it’s massively closed the gap to the Premier League in terms of quality, and this season especially we’ve seen a lot of subpar Premier League teams that likely wouldn’t make top-six in the Championship. A lot of teams and players would find the Premier League more suited to their mantra – not to say that the Premier League would be easier, but more suited to their ways.
Given the way Leeds have become under Bielsa then – dominant, depth in the squad and relentless in grinding out the ‘ugly’ wins – that’s all the makings of a Premier League team. Again without speaking too far ahead, everything about Leeds both on and off the pitch has that Premier League touch – their academy upgrade earlier in the week is with scope for a sustained Premier League future, right?
So given how loyal Bielsa has been to Bamford, and the fact that they might not have so much summer funding given the recent permanent signing of Helder Costa, and the ongoing situation with Jean-Kevin Augustin, Bamford could be lining-up as Leeds’ main man again in September. That’ll no doubt induce a collective groan from some, but looking at how he’s played in the last few games, and how Leeds have played, why would Bielsa change a winning system?
He is the messiah after all, and the messiah is as the messiah does. Opting with Bamford throughout the season has Leeds on the cusp of the Championship title, and sure, a few more goals to boost him to the magic 20 would’ve been a nice accolade. But giving Premier League football back to such a historic club and city, and doing so as the no.9 is an accolade that he could never have imagined.
At 26-years-old as well, Bamford has not yet reached his peak. The modern footballer seems to peak after their 30th birthday now and who’s to say that, after a season or two of Premier League football (again, hypothetically speaking) Bamford won’t be notching the same amount of goals as he is in the Championship now? In the long list of Leeds United no.9s, who knows where Patrick Bamford might rank at the end of it all.