Leeds United just did enough to secure survival last season under the stewardship of Jesse Marsch. There was one or two hairy moments in the Premier League run-in and at times, it must be said, it seemed likely that the Whites would be playing Championship football next season.
The odds were against them, especially as they approached the final day inside the relegation zone, but they eventually got over the line with a memorable win over Brentford in west London. They may have made sure of their place in the top flight, but after failing to build on their fine return to English football’s elite competition, it can hardly be seen as a successful campaign.
There will have been plenty to take from Leeds’ immediate post-season review and there will have been positives such as the turnaround following the appointment of Marsch and the club’s record against the teams around them of the bottom of the table. Leeds picked up maximum points against Norwich City and Watford last season, while four points came against Burnley, Crystal Palace and Brentford.
However, there are obvious areas for improvement, too, and one of those is the record against the top six. Picking up points against the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City, Man United and Tottenham is always going to be a difficult task, given the talent they each have at their disposal.
And, let’s be clear, Leeds aren’t expected to win any of those games, but to lose all 12 games is pretty alarming, especially in such a lacklustre manner. Norwich, who finished bottom of the pile, were the only other club to fail to take anything off the competition’s elite, but with Leeds conceding four or more goals in seven of those 12 games, it’s a clear that strides can be made.
In fact, Leeds conceded an eye-watering 47 goals against the top six and scored just eight, with half of those coming in defeats to Chelsea and the Red Devils. It’s an abysmal record as the Whites proved to be easy prey for those teams chasing Champions League qualification, who make up almost one third of the fixture list.
It’s also a far cry from their record during the 2020-21 season, too, when they managed to secure wins over Spurs and City, while five draws came, too, with United, Chelsea and Arsenal being kept scoreless. During that period it seemed Marcelo Bielsa’s side relished rattling the cages of the bigger sides and taking the game to them.
Sure, that fearlessness came back to bite them on one or two occasions, but their live by the sword, die by the sword attitude had many admirers. Last season, though, Leeds lacked that edge and with confidence deserting them, they were systematically picked off by those who were able to exploit their weaknesses.
We haven’t seen too much of a clear philosophy from Marsch just yet as he rightly focused his energy on doing all he could to secure survival. But he’ll hope to make a difference over the summer and see progress in his side when the Premier League gets underway in August.
He’ll be keen to see his side get off to a positive start against Wolverhampton Wanderers, but when Chelsea come to Elland Road a couple of weeks later, he’ll surely be asking his side to wise up, show a degree of pragmatism and be harder to break down.
Speaking after May’s 3-0 defeat to the Blues, Marsch said: “Obviously we gave up an early goal and that was not our goal. We talked about keeping it 0-0 as long as possible to give ourselves a chance. I thought we were aggressive, we were getting after them and the game was there for us.
“We’re still trying, against top opponents, to find ways to limit them and create chances”
Ultimately, picking points up against the top six is an unenviable task and Leeds will always be judged on their record against the teams around them in the league table but they can’t afford to let close to a third of the season go by untapped.