Over the last two months, circumstances at Leeds United have changed drastically. Going into the business end of the 2016/17 season, they were set for a play-off berth in the Championship. However, a winless five-game run in which they picked up just three points saw them drop out of the top six.
On 23 May, it was announced that Andrea Radrizzani had bought Massimo Cellino’s 50 per cent stake to take full ownership of the club. And then came the bombshell, Garry Monk would resign as manager after a successful maiden year at the helm. He not only steered the club to their highest league position in six years, but formed a genuine bond with the supporters.
Leeds missed out on last season’s play-offs and are now manager-less, but there remain plenty of reasons to be optimistic of a promotion push in 2017/18. Here’s what they must do to ensure this ambition becomes a reality.
APPOINT THE RIGHT MANAGER
It’s absolutely critical that Leeds make the correct managerial decision this summer. Replacing Monk will not be an easy task, and the club must ensure that the new boss is suited to the mentality and skill set of the existing squad.
Last term, the Whites were one of the best defensive sides outside of the Premier League. They kept clean sheets in almost a third of their league fixtures, and conceded the fourth-fewest goals in the Championship, with their 47 against bested only by Newcastle United, Brighton and Hove Albion and Sheffield Wednesday.
This record was achieved thanks to a well organised and positionally disciplined unit, with a cohesive back four supported by two solid central midfielders in a rough 4-4-1-1 shape. With this in mind, the speculation that former Leicester City and Chelsea manager, Claudio Ranieri could be appointed, makes a great deal of sense.
The Italian achieved iconic status by leading the Foxes to the Premier League title in 2016. In that season, he showed an ability to build a defensively sound collective, with fast, incisive counter-attacks. That style would suit the current Leeds squad.
It’s worth noting that others, such as Aitor Karanka, Jaap Stam and Alan Pardew have been mentioned as possible managerial appointments. Ultimately, regardless of who is brought in, time must be allowed to provide much-needed stability and a positive relationship between the players and the new manager.
REPLACE KYLE BARTLEY IMMEDIATELY
Pontus Jansson gained cult hero status for his irrepressible aerial force and willingness to get stuck in last season. This led to the Swede’s loan deal being made permanent, news that thrilled the Leeds support. However, while his showy physical approach was pivotal to the team’s defensive solidity, he was helped by an equally imposing central defensive team-mate.
Kyle Bartley also spent the 2016/17 campaign on loan with the club, though he ultimately returned to Swansea City. The void he left is a big one, as he brought composure, reassurance and consistency to the back line.
For the time being, the player’s future remains unclear.
In May, Swans boss Paul Clement stated that: “From our point of view I’m looking forward him coming back and working with him. As far as I’m concerned he’s a Swansea player and he’s staying. He’s coming back here.”
However, more recently there were rumours on social media that Bartley had handed in a transfer request and was looking to leave the Welsh club on a permanent basis. If he doesn’t return, it is imperative that Leeds make summer moves to fill the void he left.
KEEP CHRIS WOOD
While an organised defence was the foundation of their play-off push, Leeds almost certainly wouldn’t have stayed in the race for as long as they did without the attacking contribution of star striker and top scorer Chris Wood.
After an underwhelming debut season at Elland Road, the New Zealander found the best form of his career thus far to hit 27 goals in 44 league outings. All in all, when also taking into account the four assists he provided for team-mates, the 25-year-old had a direct hand in just over 50 per cent of the team’s 61 league goals scored.
That statistic illustrates just how important Wood is to the club, something only underlined by the fact the team’s next highest scorers were Bartley, Pablo Hernández and Souleymane Doukara on six apiece.
Speculation has linked the player to Crystal Palace, Southampton and Stoke City, but Leeds simply cannot afford to let him go. Fortunately, Radrizzani was clear on the striker’s future in May, saying: “Can you find me another Chris Wood? That is your answer. Our priority is to keep our best players.”
REINFORCE KEY AREAS
New director of football Victor Orta will be responsible for securing the necessary transfers this summer as Leeds look to reinforce key areas of the squad.
One of the Spaniard’s first priorities must be to find adequate cover or support for Wood in attacking areas, as it is unrealistic that the team could rely so heavily on one man going forward and still compete at the top of the Championship.
With this in mind, a new striker and attacking midfielder would not go amiss. However, as highlighted earlier it is also important to find a quality replacement to Bartley in central defence. And, with Robert Green turning 38 next season, bringing in a talented, young goalkeeper to back up and eventually succeed the former England shot-stopper would be sensible.