After years outside of the top flight, can Leeds finally gain promotion back to the Premier League this season?
Leeds United have not featured in the Premier League since 2004 but that does not dampen the enthusiasm and optimism of the club’s fans at the start of every season. After all, Leeds are one of the biggest clubs in England and were playing in the semi-finals of the Champions League not so long ago.
Those days may be long gone now but promotion to the Premier League is still possible and is realistic.
The West Yorkshire outfit could have finished in the top six of the Championship last season had they not slipped up in the final few games. Even ending up seventh in the standings was a success for a club that often get over 30,000 fans for their home matches at Elland Road in the second tier of English football.
The 2017-18 Championship campaign has started strongly for Leeds, who won their opening game of the season 3-2 against Bolton Wanderers away from home at the Macron Stadium. The Whites have a new manager in charge and have signed a number of players in the summer transfer window. Optimism among the fans is high. Clinching one of the top two automatic promotion places may not be possible for the Whites as clubs such as Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa have better teams but they can certainly claim a playoff spot.
The key player for Leeds this season will be Chris Wood. The New Zealand international was the top scorer in the Championship last season with 27 goals in 41 starts, and the striker will once again have to be on top of his game during the 2017-18 campaign. The 25-year-old is 8/1 in the Championship betting odds to become the top scorer this season, and it is imperative that the Whites retain his services. Wood has been linked with moves to Premier League clubs and, if he leaves, then Leeds could struggle to find a suitable replacement so late in the summer transfer window.
Leeds have one of the best centre-backs in the Championship in Pontus Jansson. Although his partner-in-crime from last season, Kyle Bartley, has returned to his parent club Swansea City, Matthew Pennington – signed on a season-long loan deal from Everton – could prove to be an able, if not better, replacement. The Whites have a very strong midfield, with the likes of Eunan O’Kane, Ronaldo Vieira and Liam Bridcutt all superb players.
Pablo Hernandez is one of the best attacking midfielders in the Championship but the former Valencia star could be pushed hard for a place in the team by Samuel Saiz. Saiz, who can operate as a forward or as an attacking midfielder, has joined from Spanish club Huesca, where he was the best player last season. The 26-year-old is going to create a lot of chances for Wood, who could hit the 30-goal mark in the Championship this season if he stays fit.
The Championship is a notoriously tough and tricky domestic league and Leeds should not get complacent. Home form will be key, and the Whites have to make sure that they win their matches at Elland Road as well as stay consistent.