It speaks volumes that Leeds United’s odds of finishing in the top four are far more favourable than their current 250/1 price to be relegated from the Premier League this season.
Given only 10 points separate Leeds from fourth-placed Chelsea, who Marcelo Bielsa’s side hold a game in hand over, there will be some ambitious punters who fancy the 100/1 about Leeds catching the best of the rest and finishing in the top four.
The odds are a fair reflection of the likelihood though, but since this is Leeds’ first season back in the top tier in 16 years they can be forgiven for not mounting a serious challenge for Champions League qualification should a late dash fail to materialise.
There is, however, a growing feeling that this Leeds team are not a million miles away from becoming a top six or top four team in the coming seasons, particularly if they can hold on to Bielsa as manager and retain their best players.
Like all top teams, they will need to invest in the side to build on their promise, and luckily for Bielsa the club have recently secured fresh investment from The York Family, via 49ers Enterprises.
Now with a 37% stake in the club, the owners of the San Francisco 49ers are the sole minority shareholders of Leeds United and have been making all the right noises since the deal was confirmed last month.
Talk of investing in the squad and Elland Road will be music to ears of Leeds supporters, who have watched their side become the Premier League’s most entertaining side this season with 40 goals scored and 42 conceded, drawing only two games in their 23 league outings.
Granted, 11 defeats against 10 wins will be a source of frustration for Bielsa, but few can complain about the quality of the games they’ve taken part in – it’s just unfortunate fans are still unable to get an eye-witness account of the most watchable team in the division.
“They’re a fantastic team to watch and that’s why they’ve become a lot of peoples’ second favourite team,” former Leeds goalkeeper Paul Robinson told bookmakers.co.uk.
“They’re very entertaining for the neutral and their own fans won’t criticise Bielsa for the amount of goals they’ve conceded because they’ve done fantastically well this season.
“There’s been a lot of expectation on them because of the way they play but let’s not forget that they’re still only in their first season back in the Premier League and just over half way in to the season I think they’re only three wins away from staying up.”
Survival In Sight
Indeed, three more wins would take Leeds over the typical survival threshold of 40 points and, assuming the club stay safe this season, they can look forward to cementing their place back in the top flight with shrewd business and entertaining football.
“I think it’s a really clever investment,” said Robinson of the 49ers Enterprises deal.
“It’s not just the financial investment that they bring, it’s the business nous that they bring. It’s a global sports brand, a huge sporting company who can take Leeds United to the next level both on and off the field.
“They want to develop Elland Road and invest in the squad which is fantastic, but from a business perspective they can take Leeds to the next stage on a commercial level with the expertise that they bring.
“Behind the scenes, they can put the club where it needs to be financially.”
23 - Leeds have both scored (40) and conceded (42) 40+ goals in just 23 Premier League games this season; only Tottenham in 2007-08 hit 40 goals for and against after fewer matches in the competition's history (22 games). Thrills. pic.twitter.com/TgdPIyT5Em— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 14, 2021
But not everything is rosy. Only West Brom (55) have conceded more goals than Leeds (42) this season while even bottom club Sheffield United – who have just 11 points on the board – have conceded fewer (40).
Robinson admits the number of chances Leeds concede is a concern, but he has full confidence Bielsa will address the problem in the summer transfer window with financial help from the shareholders.
He said: “In the long run, if they are to stay in the Premier League, then I think the defence is something they’re going to have to look at because they make too many errors and concede too many goals from set-plays.
“They’ve conceded the second highest number of goals in the league and the goalkeeper has had to make the second most number of saves in the league, which tells you that there is an issue with the defending given the chances they concede.
“For next season, with the new part-owners on board, you’d hope there will be an opportunity for Bielsa to make some investments and buy some more top class players to strengthen that side of the team.
“They miss Kalvin-Phillips hugely in that defensive midfield role when he’s injured, they haven’t got anyone who can cover really.
‘Leeds Lack Leaders In Defence’
“They’ve had a huge amount of bad luck with injuries to their centre-halves at different times this season and because of the amount of changes in personnel in the back four it’s been very hard for them to get any kind of understanding or continuity.
“A lot of the goals conceded have come down to defensive errors but for a manager defending set-pieces should be one of the easiest things to put right on the training ground. You need leaders who can boss that situation and they haven’t had that.
“It’s something that he will have to address.”
For Robinson, there is one clear solution at centre-half – a known entity who has broken into the first team at Brighton this season but who still belongs at his one-time loanees in the eyes of the former England goalkeeper.
“I’d love to see them go back in for Ben White at the end of the season,” said Robinson. “I know they tried really hard to get him last summer because he was so influential for them in the Championship, but perhaps talks can reopen.
“He was the only one, when Phillips was injured, who was able to step into that defensive midfield holding role but he was also really important at centre-half last season.
“It’s looking like Brighton will stay up this year but I’d still love to see Leeds go back and test their resolve with a big bid because he fits so well into the system and I know he enjoyed his time at Elland Road.
“With the system that Leeds play he could excel at centre-half or in the defensive midfield role when Phillips isn’t available, because that has been one of the team’s biggest issues.
“If they can’t get Ben White, ideally it would be someone of that ilk, someone who is comfortable playing as a centre-half but also able to step into the holding midfield role when necessary.”
Players of such quality are in high demand, and Leeds may face competition from Liverpool for White this summer if rumours are to be believed. But whatever personnel Bielsa looks to bring in this summer, he can expect to have the backing of the board.