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Leeds United’s return to the top tier of English football was barely confirmed before bookmakers started taking bets on how well they’ll do upon their return to the Premier League.
After clinching the Sky Bet Championship title over the weekend, one of England’s grandest clubs will dine at the top table once again after enduring an unthinkable 16-year absence.
But with last season’s Championship winners Norwich being relegated with a whimper in their first season back in the Premier League, what odds Leeds suffer the same fate?
Traders appear willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, with the book opened at 100/30 for relegation, but that’s only marginally more likely than a top-half finish at 7/2.
Bookies believe Leeds will fare more like Sheffield United than Norwich City next season, with the Blades – who finished second in the Championship last season – on course to finish above Arsenal inside the top 10 this season.
It’s 5/6 for Leeds to finish above Sheffield United, their Yorkshire rivals of course, next season, though a top six finish for Marcelo Bielsa’s men looks pretty unlikely at 14/1.
Speaking of Bielsa, the Argentine brainbox behind Leeds’ long-awaited return, bookies have also opened betting on who will be the club’s next boss as small doubts linger over the manager’s future.
Bielsa’s contract expires next week, and although he’s due to hold talks with the club over an extension this week fans will still be on edge until pen is put to paper. Incidentally, Betfair make Sam Allardyce the 10/1 favourite to be next Leeds manager.
Former Leeds goalkeeper Paul Robinson, who played under Allardyce at Blackburn, is hopeful Bielsa will commit to taking charge of their Premier League return but admits the 64-year-old’s character makes it difficult to rest assured.
“We just don’t know for sure, he’s such an aloof character,” he told bookmakers.co.uk.
“We’ve seen different sides to him – the spygate scandal last season for example – we’ve got little insights into his personality, but we still don’t know how his mind works.
‘Held In High Regard’
“But he’s held in such high regard by other managers like Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola, they’ve trusted him as their guru for years. He’s an absolute scientist and professor of the game.
“The sooner they can tie him down to whatever he wants the better. I suspect he can sit down with the owner – who also deserves a lot of credit for how the club has been handled recently – and Bielsa can dictate how long a deal he wants.
“I know he’s here in this country on his own and I’m sure he’s got family elsewhere, but for the sake of the club and supporters it’s very key that they tie him down for as long as possible.”
Bookmakers go 1/5 on Leeds not being relegated, and Robinson has a similar mindset, believing Bielsa will be fully intent on making their mark with his own brand of high-intensity football. That’s assuming he remains in charge.
He said: “We can only imagine what will come in the Premier League. We’ve seen snippets of his personality and his relationship with his players, but what’s there for all to see is how his team plays.
“I don’t imagine Leeds United will come back and just aim to survive in the Premier League, they’ll try and take the Premier League by storm. They’ll press high with their high-tempo game and I really expect Bielsa to stay because he’ll want to take this side into the Premier League.
“It’s the best league in the world and Bielsa has proven that he’s one of the best managers, his personal drive and ambition will make him want to have a crack at the Premier League, who wouldn’t want to take charge of Leeds United at that level? It would be an honour and I’m sure he’d agree.”
Naturally, fans are already eagerly anticipating the transfer rumour speculation that comes with being a Premier League club these days, and although Robinson accepts that Leeds must strengthen their squad for the top tier, he’s not buying into the reports Adam Lallana is wanted by Bielsa.
“I can’t see that one, I don’t think he’s Bielsa’s type of player,” he said. “Victor Orta has done the recruitment with the manager and it’s got to be a certain type of player that Bielsa will want to work with. I don’t see Lallana as an option he’d want.
“I see Lallana maybe going to Leicester to work again with Brendan Rodgers, I think their Liverpool link and the way they play makes much more sense, but I don’t know if there’s any truth in that.
“You always have to bolster a squad when you come up to the Premier League. We’ve seen Leeds get exposed at the back a couple of times. Whether they can play that open in the Premier League is yet to be seen, but Bielsa works with a small squad and the key this summer will be to sign Ben White permanently, which would be huge if they can.
“Jack Harrison on loan again for next season is a big deal with the possibility of making it permanent in 12 months’ time. I don’t see Bielsa changing things too much though. Defensively, maybe he’ll adapt things to try and be a little more rigid, but he only plays one way and that’s high intensity, high pressure attacking football.
“Leeds United have had over 60% possession in most of their games and must average over 10 chances every game, but their conversion rate is not high enough.”
Is Bamford Good Enough?
On the subject of conversion rates, Robinson is not convinced Leeds striker Patrick Bamford is cut out for Premier League football. With just one game remaining, Bamford has 16 goals in 44 games in the second tier, but it’s his waywardness in front of goal which concerns former goalkeeper Robinson the most.
“His conversion rate is not good enough,” he said. “The chances that he’s missed this season – emphasised by the opportunities he squandered at Swansea and Barnsley recently – tells me he’s just not clinical enough, so it’s an area they’re going to have to strengthen in.
“Bielsa really likes him though and always plays him when he’s fit because of his work-rate and everything else he does off the ball for the team. That’s all well and good but his conversion rate just isn’t good enough.
“For a team to be promoted as champions with a top goalscorer with 16 goals is unusual. Most top six teams in the Championship have a 20+ goals a season striker. Bamford isn’t prolific enough. The way Leeds play, with a single central striker, it’s an area they’re going to have to strengthen, no doubt.”
Robinson already has two strikers in mind he’d like to see in a Leeds shirt next season – but Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard and Aleksandar Mitrović of Fulham are unlikely to come cheap.
“I really like the boy Edouard at Celtic, I think he’d be an absolute perfect fit for the way Bielsa plays,” said Robinson.
“Or if Fulham don’t go up someone like Mitrović, someone of that ilk who is used to playing up top on their own who works hard off the ball but can also score goals.
“The chances will come. When you look back over the course of the last two seasons, Leeds have created so many chances but have dropped a lot points because they haven’t always been able to convert the chances into goals.
“If they had had someone who could take the chances they would have been promoted last season.”
Despite their obvious need for a top quality striker, Robinson believes Leeds are finally in a good position off the field, which could prove the springboard for Premier League solidity.
He said: “There’s a word that can be mentioned in the same breath as Leeds United which we haven’t been able to say over the past number of years and that word is stability.
“They’ve now got a fantastic owner, a great board of directors and a world-class manager, that’s three things you could not associate with Leeds United over the past 16 years.
“They’ve got all that now, so everything is in place to stabalise the club at Premier League level and the remit will be for the club to stay in the top tier, but I don’t think that will be the manager’s remit, he’ll want to take the Premier League by storm.”
With that in mind, Bielsa looks generously priced at 8/1 to win a Premier League Manager of the Month Award next season.
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