Setting pre-season expectations is often a fruitless exercise. It requires taking shots at a moving target, and leaps of faith that nobody can truly be assured of. They can be as narrow minded as "play-offs or bust," or simply just wanting a competitive team for the duration of the season.
I am Member Number One of the Garry Monk fan club but, truth be told, I don’t know how he will fit into the Leeds United setup. I hope and pray it’s a perfect match, but until the football is kicked in London on Sunday it’s impossible to know.
Monk’s integration into Yorkshire, and how quickly it does or doesn’t happen, will likely define how successful the upcoming season is. But here’s the tricky thing: Monk being a good fit doesn’t guarantee a winning side straight away.
What if Monk is the perfect manager for Leeds United but he takes six months to get acclimatised? This would validate the decision to hire Monk as a masterstroke, but would likely make it practically impossible to have a promotion campaign if we endure growing pains until January.
We have spent all summer spewing over the greatness of Monk, lauded the signing of new attacking options, and fallen in love with a new kit that makes my heart melt. The Leeds United family is pumped for the dawn of a new era, but we have jumped forward without asking the most basic of questions: what will make the upcoming season a success?
So what could that success look like? The Oxford dictionary defines success as "the accomplishment of an aim or purpose". If we stick to that description, what is our aim, and what is our purpose?
On one hand, this is easy. The purpose of playing football is to win! Quickly, Charlie, your thoughts…
Yet at the same time, football can mean so much more. Some want attractive football, some want Barcelona style ball movement, and some want clean sheets. Bringing things back to United, yes, my number one aim for the upcoming season is to see us make the play-offs. But how does Leeds United get from mid-table into the top 6?
We say we want play-off football but do we know what that truly means?
To better understand how Leeds can approach the Premier League, I have outlined some expectations that will gauge the successfulness of the upcoming season. And I have placed them into three different buckets: the expected, the desirable and the ultimate.
Think of these as three different levels of success. The expected is the baseline for a pass mark, the bare minimum required. Achieving the desirable will transform a C minus grade into a B plus, while the ultimate, well, that will speak for itself. Let’s explore each.
Here are five things I expect to see this season.
More goals than last season
Simply put, 50 goals over 46 league games is not going to get it done. The signings of Kemar Roofe, Marcus Antonsson and loanee Hadi Sacko all figure to boost the attacking line, but the obvious must be said: we need more goals.
Stability part I – no more coach sackings
I know what you’re thinking, Monk is our saviour and there is no way his job could be under any threat. This is the moment where I remind you that Massimo Cellino is still (i) a crazy man, and (ii) the man in charge.
I don’t care how bad things get this season, Monk must be given the time to implement his vision for the football club. Now, hopefully this won’t be an issue as we plan on being undefeated at Christmas. That’s the plan right?
Stability part II – consistent defensive unit
On paper, defence wasn’t a major problem last season, yet there was still much rotation within the back four.
Charlie Taylor was a mainstay throughout, but the remainder of the defensive lineup was a week to week proposition. Sol Bamba, Liam Cooper, Scott Wootton, Giuseppe Bellusci, Gaetano Berardi and Lewie Coyle all spent time transitioning in and out of first choice positions.
If Monk can identify a stable starting unit and have the good fortune of seeing it stay healthy, it will go a long way to seeing improving results.
Playing meaningful football games in April
Another simplistic request. Can we please witness a mid-April contest at Elland Road where the home team has something other than pride to play for?
Re-sign at least two of Alex Mowatt, Lewie Coyle and Charlie Taylor
All three of these youngsters are entering the final year of their contracts, and there are already rumours that each is on the transfer block. If we truly seek to start climbing the rungs of English football, we cannot keep losing young talent to the likes of A.F.C. Bournemouth.
Getting to 73 points
Saying we expect a play-off appearance is nice, but it ultimately means nothing unless we know how to get there. Over the past seven seasons, here is the point tally of the sixth placed Championship side.
2015/16 – 74 points
2014/15 – 78 points
2013/14 – 72 points
2012/13 – 68 points
2011/12 – 75 points
2010/11 – 75 points
2009/10 – 70 points
That averages out to 73 points. Get to 73 points and history says the top six will beckon.
30 goals from the Chris Wood / Marcus Antonsson combination
Wood netted 13 times last campaign as he led United's scoring chart. But it could have been so much better for the big Kiwi, with injuries and jaw dropping misses highlighting an up and down debut season.
Antonsson will likely start the season in a reserve role, but he brings something unique to the table. His speed and touch should make for a good pairing with Wood, Kemar Roofe, Souleymane Doukara or whoever Monk employs within his starting eleven.
A good output from the Wood / Antonsson pairing will help make the team a more consistent attacking threat.
This can be said in one glorious word: promotion! A repeat of this from 2010 would not just make the season a success, but it would return Leeds United to where we belong: the Premier League.
The time for talk is over. Let’s football. Happy opening week to all!