Following the first international break of the 2018/19 campaign, Neil Harris’ Lions will look to return to winning ways at The Den as Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United make the trip south on Saturday (3pm).
The Lions found ourselves pegged back in our last outing, as Swansea City came from behind to win at The Den to start September on a disappointing note. Bielsa’s Whites played out a goalless draw with Middlesbrough at Elland Road in their last match, with the point enough to keep the West Yorkshire side at the summit of the Sky Bet Championship level on points with Boro' at this early stage, and to maintain their unbeaten League start.
Leeds United boast a decorated history, with the club having spent many of their previous years in the top flight of English football and competing in European competition since their establishment in 1919.
Leeds have won the English League on three occasions, and were the last club to win the title before the rebranding of the League system in 1992. Also champions in 1969 and 1974, the club’s dominance under Don Revie in the ‘60s and ‘70s saw them runners-up on five occasions, as well as winning the FA Cup in 1972 – in one of four finals reached – and lifting the League Cup in 1968. The Whites managed to reach the European Cup Final in 1975 with Jimmy Armfield in charge, with two late goals from Bayern Munich seeing the German giants crowned champions.
The club’s last involvement in Europe came in the 2002/03 season, before suffering relegation the following campaign. Leeds have not returned to the Premier League since, only managing one Play-Off place. During severe financial turbulence at Elland Road, the club spent three seasons in League One, returning to the Championship in 2010. After a series of mid-table finishes and the occasional near-miss in their quest for the Play-Offs, Leeds are now looking to mount a serious bid for Premier League football under world-renowned Argentine coach Bielsa.
Ones to Watch
Barry Douglas (3) was secured by Leeds during the summer after leaving Wolves, for whom he played an instrumental part in taking the Sky Bet Championship title in resounding fashion last season. The left-sided player has shown his prowess down the flank as both a full-back and a wing-back, and has played every minute so far this campaign, claiming two assists. The 29-year-old’s performances at Wolves, which earned him fan-favourite status, thrust him into Scottish international recognition, making his debut back in March against Hungary as an understudy to Liverpool’s Andy Robertson. As well as joint-topping the division’s assist chart last season, Douglas also carries exceptional set-piece ability, and is expected to be a key asset in Bielsa’s debut campaign. He has played domestic football in Poland, Turkey and his home nation of Scotland.
Mateusz Klich (43) has burst onto the Leeds scene this season after returning from last season’s loan spell at FC Utrecht. Repaying the faith shown in him by his new manager, Klich has scored three goals and made one assist in six League matches so far, putting in numerous impressive displays and seeing him return to the Poland squad, from which he was absent for four years. Klich signed for the Whites in 2017 following a season with FC Twente, also turning out for German sides Wolfsburg and Kaiserslautern. A playmaker who can sit deep or link the play from defence to attack, Klich was part of the PEC Zwolle side in 2014 which lifted the KNVB (Dutch) Cup, thrashing Ajax 5-1 in the Final. Klich made his senior Polish debut in 2011, scoring his first international goal in 2013 against Denmark. After a lengthy spell out of favour for his nation, head coach Jerzy Brzeczek recalled Klich for last weekend’s UEFA Nations League clash with Italy. Interestingly, the midfielder will also face Shaun Williams and Aiden O’Brien for the second time in four days, with Klich and O’Brien scoring the goals in a 1-1 draw between Poland and the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday night.
Samuel Saiz (14) has been one of Leeds’ key marksmen since arriving from his native Spain in 2017. Saiz showed his quality on numerous occasions for The Whites last season, winning the hearts of many of the club’s supporters with his diminutive, creative and exciting style of play in an attacking midfield role. The Spaniard was often part of a dangerous trio in behind the striker, alongside Ezgjan Alioski and Pablo Hernandez, and with Hernandez sidelined through injury this weekend, it could well be time for Saiz to perform the heroics himself. Also able to play in a more advanced role, the former Spain U19 international progressed through the coveted Real Madrid academy, later on the books of city rivals Atletico along with Getafe and Huesca, before experiencing his first taste of the English game. The 27-year-old scored five and claimed seven assists last term, making 34 League appearances.
Ezgjan Alioski (10) was another of Leeds’ key men last year, one more who experienced his debut campaign in English football after signing from Swiss outfit FC Lugano – where he scored 16 goals in 34 League matches in 2016/17. In a similar mould to Saiz except more of a wide man, Alioski chipped in with seven goals and five assists last season, making 42 Championship appearances – the joint-highest for a Leeds player. He has also already notched two goals and two assists in the early stages of this campaign. Alioski is a Macedonia international, earning his first cap in 2013 following a series of encouraging performances for the youth sides. The 26-year-old initially began his career as a left-back in his days in the Young Boys academy, eventually pushing further forward as his career in Switzerland progressed with Schaffhausen and Lugano. The versatile attacking player can operate as a winger, full-back, playmaker or striker – available to adapt to any situation for Bielsa’s team – and could be in contention for a more advanced role following the recent injury news of Hernandez and top scorer Kemar Roofe.
In the Dugout
Marcelo Bielsa was considered a huge coup for Leeds United following his arrival at Elland Road. The 63-year-old carries a wealth of managerial pedigree, having taken on his first coaching role in his native Argentina in 1990 – before all but four of his current Leeds squad were born. Formerly of Athletic Bilbao and Lazio, Bielsa spent a six-year spell as his national side’s manager, reaching the Copa America Final in 2004, as well as leading the nation to Olympic Gold in the same year. He then took the reins of Chile, guiding the team to the knockout stages of the 2010 World Cup. Lauded for his tactical nous and boldness in his approach to games, Bielsa has gone some way to revolutionising Argentine football and has overseen the development of former players into high-profile managers, such as Mauricio Pochettino and Diego Simeone.