Season predictions – On a wing(er) and a prayer, Leeds will do well TSS August 2, 2015 Leeds United 29 Comments I can already hear the cries of laughter before I’ve committed my season prediction to the highly-quotable and unforgiving world of the internet, so allow me to preface it by pointing out that I’m not one for blind optimism. It hasn’t been the most difficult task unfortunately, but I’ve correctly predicted Leeds’ boring mid-table finishes in every season since Simon Grayson left the club. By and large, the problems have been repeated season after season. Too much change and instability, our best players sold and obvious weaknesses in a squad lacking balance. I’m not going to argue Leeds are the strongest side in the league because if that was true, we’d be talking about an easy trot to the title, but I genuinely believe we’re in a better position now than we have been for several years. Key to all that is the youngsters we’ve (at the point of writing) retained. They, along with Silvestri, Berardi, Antenucci and one or two others provide a stable core with a year of playing together under their belts. Given the price of success and failure in this division, that kind of stability can be pretty rare and should count for a lot. We’ve also sured up our two biggest weaknesses of last season, or at least, we will have done when/if Stuart Dallas completes his move later this week. The left-side has long been an area of weakness for Leeds, creating an imbalance that dragged other players out of position and knocked on to everything else. The old ‘square pegs in round holes’ problem. Sol Bamba signing permanently is a major improvement too. His arrival instantly strengthened our defence, he’s an obvious leadership figure that a squad as young as ours benefits hugely from and he too could be considered a piece of the stability jigsaw given that he was here for a few months last season. I never doubted Chris Wood as such, but his performance against Everton convinced me he’ll lead our line like no one since Luciano Becchio has managed. He’s strong, has half a yard of pace, moves around well, looks comfortable in possession, holds the ball up to bring other players into the game and, rather importantly, has an eye for goal. With Micro Antenucci as back-up, width provided by Byram and Dallas plus Alex Mowatt adding support, I don’t think goals will be an issue this season. Our philosophy or style of play is important too. Rösler has spoken about ‘heavy metal’ football, which is difficult to imagine in a division as scrappy as the Championship, but the “up and at ’em” mentality that involves is crucial to a successful Leeds United side, mostly because it’s what gets the crowd going and an almost bloodthirsty Elland Road crowd roaring on every tackle is an intimidating place to play football, one that few teams would look forward to. None of this is to say Leeds are without our problems. Neutrals are predicting a finish as low as 21st for Rösler’s side, which is undoubtedly a nod to the chaotic environment Elland Road was for much of last season. But in an interview with Uwe Rösler today, the Daily Mail talks about the buffer Adam Pearson and Martyn Glover provide Rösler from Cellino’s knee-jerk moments of frustration and they do seem to be having a positive effect on controlling the mood at the club. For the most part, this has been the calmest summer I can remember for a long time. Depth tends to be an issue for every second tier club and while our starting XI is strong, there’s obvious areas in which an injury or suspension could do serious damage. Central midfield is where we’re at our strongest in that sense, but based on the 4-5-1 Rösler seems to be set on, strikers aren’t much of an issue either – Mirco Antenucci is excellent cover for Chris Wood. We have the numbers – if not the quality – in central defence too, which leaves wide cover as our biggest issue. Doukara seems to have impressed people during pre-season and there’s a few centre-backs who can do half a job at RB. An injury to Sam Byram or Gaetano Berardi would obviously be a problem, but not as big of an issue as one on the left-side where Charlie Taylor and Stuart Dallas (assuming he signs) are our only options. Our business may be complete with the arrival of Dallas, but if we are to add one more, I’d suggest signing another left-back makes the most sense since Taylor is versatile and can play LB and LW, thus giving us adequate cover in every position. You can’t totally negate the effect of an injury to key personnel, even a club with Man City’s resources would struggle with the loss of Sergio Ageuro, but a serviceable plan B should be a given. However, barring any mental moments from Massimo Cellino or a plague of injuries to key players, I think Stuart Dallas pushes us over the top six contenders line. We have the required stability, a manager with a plan to play the kind of football I think will get the best out of our young side and have strengthened the biggest problem areas of last season. In some ways, this could be very reminiscent of Simon Grayson’s first year back in the Championship. While we’re reliant upon key players and aren’t quite the finished article, all that separated us from the top six that season was Ken Bates’ poor performance in the January transfer window, which is an issue I don’t foresee with Cellino. If Leeds are there or thereabouts come Christmas, I fully expect him to double-down on a promotion push and strengthen any areas in which we’ve struggled. For all those reasons, I’m predicting top six. Brace yourselves, optimism is returning to Elland Road.