The unnecessary panic surrounding Leeds United and why Marcelo Bielsa's side should live up to title favourites tag

Can Leeds United go one better and secure promotion?

The best and worst transfers in football always seem to have one thing in common - the initial reaction is always one of "how much?"

It's often associated with bad deals. Those clubs who overpay in order to secure a target. However, it works both ways.

It seems to have been the talk surrounding Elland Road. Pontus Jansson's cut-price deal to Brentford left many stunned. A measly £5.5m fee on the surface would be bizarre in normal circumstances, but it has emerged that this wasn't a normal transfer.

We could spend days debating the deal. Most already have, with no end in sight, and I've already discussed why Leeds will benefit in the long run previously, so let's leave that one there.

Leeds aren't the first club to have to sell a prized asset for lower than market price, and they won't be the last. Yet the hangover to the move has seemingly lingered longer than most.

Jansson is not the first player to depart Elland Road this summer. Youngster Jack Clarke has signed for Tottenham after a breakthrough year under Marcelo Bielsa.

A transfer that has seen £9.5m paid upfront, with the winger going back on-loan for the season to Leeds, can only be seen as a good bit of business given the handful of starts made during the last campaign.

Pontus Jansson

What's done is done, and there's nothing that can be done to change the past. That past has been an incredibly positive one across the last 12 months, despite falling short in gaining promotion, the fact that they were in the running until the very end highlights the swift transformation by Bielsa.

They've been installed as favourites to win the Championship title with the league's sponsors Sky Bet. By no small margin either, their 9/2 price a lot shorter than the 7/1 on Fulham, who are the next team in the betting.

It can be said that the favourites' tag was an expected one, but the signs point to success. A building year that exceeded all expectations, combined with a squad now accustomed to Bielsa's ways should mean the good times are finally on the way back to LS11.

Instead, the reaction is largely one of dread; an almost desperation for the transfer window to come to a conclusion, given the uncertain futures of stars Kemar Roofe and Kalvin Phillips.

Phillips has established himself as the best defensive midfielder in the division. A position identified for him by the Leeds boss at the start of the season - the 23-year-old has since excelled in the role.

It's no surprise to hear the chants of 'The Yorkshire Pirlo' when you make the trip to Elland Road. A Leeds lad who has come through their academy, the United faithful have an attachment that they hope won't come to an end anytime soon.

Phillips' talent can also be seen by the fact that Leeds have slapped a huge £30m price tag on him. That's come amidst interest from Aston Villa, who will have to spend big to land their man. That's despite a summer that has seen around £75m outgoing already.

Kalvin Phillips: The Yorkshire Pirlo

He probably won't leave given that price. Every player has their price, but Phillips' lack of experience in his current role may lead to some monitoring another season before committing to a move.

If he does go, though, Leeds have a serious war chest to unleash in the final part of the window. They're unlikely to bring in 10 new faces, such is the way that Bielsa operates, but it's money that can secure several promotion-winning players.

It's a win-win in that aspect. Should Phillips stay, Leeds get another season of his dominant presence in front of the defensive line. Should he go, there are funds available to add quality in a variety of positions.

It's understandable that questions have been asked of those who have been signed. Ben White has next to no history playing against sides of Championship calibre, while Jack Harrison had a 'hot and cold' campaign in 2018/19.

Liam McCarron, Rafa Mujica and Guillermo Amor will link up with the club's youth set-up, meaning it's likely to be a while before we see them operate directly under Bielsa's orders.

The one eye-catching move was Helder Costa, in a deal that will become permanent for £15m next summer. He almost single-handedly kept Wolves in the league when he first arrived, played a part in promotion but was unable to adjust with the step up to the Premier League.

There's a player there though and we've already seen it. His exclusion from Wolves can largely be attributed to being the victim of a formation change, and Leeds' reliance on wingers should see him reach previous heights next season.

Marcelo Bielsa watches on

It's a positive move regardless. The top target that Leeds had to land and his arrival was a statement of intent that the Whites are well set to finish higher than their ultimately failed season in May.

Of last season's first-team squad, the only position that Leeds are lighter in is defence. Jansson's move to Brentford, combined with Aapo Halme's switch to Barnsley means two first-team players have gone.

White's arrival helped boost the numbers, though, and Pascal Struijk has all the makings of a quality centre-back under Bielsa's guidance. Indeed, it looks as if Strujik will have senior involvement, and he's certainly a name to keep tabs on.

The picture has been painted that Leeds are significantly weaker as a result of this transfer window, when in reality the only player they're now short of is Jansson.

It's not just Struijk that can shine, but there are a number of youth players who look capable of adding real depth to the first team squad.

When Bielsa arrived in June 2018, he stated in his first press conference that "we have one or two youngsters coming through who could be useful in that respect also so so that we can add those to the squad as a whole."

The Argentine has used more than a couple. The 2018/19 season saw Will Huffer, Leif Davis, Jordan Stevens, Jamie Shackleton, Halme and Clarke all given league debuts, with others utilised on the bench.

Jamie Shackleton is set to be the next star to come from Leeds

This wasn't in meaningless fixtures either, which is often the case for clubs late in the season as they look to introduce the next generation to senior level football. These were big matches across a promotion-contending campaign.

Davis made his senior debut at Villa Park, and was given a matter of minutes to prepare with Barry Douglas pulling out through illness after the warm-up. Huffer went in goal against Bristol City with Halme also featuring in the heart of defence. Leeds won both games.

It's perhaps the fearlessness that comes with youth, but when Leeds threw these inexperienced players in at the deep end, they came out not just keeping their head above water, but swimming with strength.

"Mental strength. Sufficient ability on the ball. Being bright and intelligent enough to interpret different styles of play. Strong physically and brave. A competitive spirit."

The five credentials Bielsa outlined as wanting in a player. The ability is surpassed by a desire to win. A preference for intelligence over raw skill, which is why there's little fear in calling upon the youth players to play their part.

What separates Leeds though is the fact that these players have plenty of ability. The youth academy was carefully rebuilt under Victor Orta, scouting all areas of the continent to find those who can play their part in West Yorkshire.

It's largely the reason that Bielsa will be happy with their current situation in the transfer market. There could have been more 'headline names' in at Elland Road, but the likelihood is that Leeds already have equal talent sitting in their academy.

Pascal Struijk

Ultimately, talent is one thing, but you need luck on your side to be successful, and Leeds didn't get that when it came to injuries.

By the end of the campaign, the medical department at Thorp Arch had dealt with around 45 separate injuries across the course of the season.

It's easy to blame this on the intensity of Bielsa's methods, but a lot of these were the result of impact in games or training sessions, something that is difficult to put measures in place to prevent.

One player who suffered significantly was Patrick Bamford, featuring just once between September and January. That appearance saw his first league goal in a Leeds shirt, with the campaign from February onwards bringing a return of eight goals from 17 appearances.

Had it not been for a cruciate injury, followed by a separate knee problem afterwards, Bamford had all the potential to finish among the league's top goalscorers.

His style divides opinion, with Leeds having to play off him as opposed to making the runs seen by Kemar Roofe, but the statistics prove that he would have benefitted greatly from a full campaign.

His xG (Expected Goals) was the highest of any striker in the Sky Bet Championship during the 2018/19 season. The rate he was going at would have seen a huge 36 goals had he featured in all 46 games.

Now of course, football doesn't work that way but it does show how he is getting into the right positions and works in a Bielsa system. His xGOT (Expected Goals on Target) were also higher than the likes of Dwight Gayle and Teemu Pukki.

That model gives greater credit to where a shot ended up, such as efforts that end up behind for a corner as opposed to straight down the middle at a goalkeeper.

Again, that benefits Bamford. Injuries hindered what could have been a prolific campaign, and a clean bill of health, combined with finding the confidence of previous campaigns in various loan spells, should see Bamford prove again why he is a top striker at this level.

Patrick Bamford celebrates a goal against West Brom

It's an odd atmosphere surrounding Leeds at the moment, with nervous sentiments overriding what should be excitement ahead of a second season under Bielsa.

The future of Phillips continues to dominate conversation, but his involvement in pre-season, plus the huge price tag that Leeds have placed on him to put off potential suitors, should see him involved again in 2019/20.

The Whites are the title favourites and justify that tag. It's worth reserving excitement until the latter stages of the campaign, when everything is confirmed, given the outcome last time.

That conclusion is one of many learning curves from a debut campaign under Bielsa, a squad that had barely been near promotion before buckled under the pressure, but it should be difference this time around.

A return for Bielsa is key, not just for his own methods and popularity, but the need for consecutive campaigns under one manager's guidance - something that has been severely lacking at Leeds in recent years.

The foundations are in place, and even with Jansson's departure, they're still standing strong.

The next few weeks could well define Leeds' direction this season and their chances of finally returning to the Premier League. Whatever happens though, with Bielsa at the helm and his faith in the club's young talent, they will always have a chance.

Odds correct as of 2130 BST on 11/07/19

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