Unless there is a miracle turnaround this season at Leeds United, the team will miss the playoffs after a rather promising start to the season that saw the team top the table in the Championship back in August. And while the talk of “going on a run” to get to the playoffs is fun and all, the chances of this team suddenly going on a tears seems very unlikely.
Apologies to David Prutton, who thinks that Leeds can turn their season around by winning the next two games against Derby County and Bristol City, but this scenario seems unlikely. Leeds haven’t won a match since Boxing Day, and while Thomas Christiansen was sacked, the showing against Sheffield United wasn’t terribly different under the new manager Paul Heckingbottom.
Leeds are in 11th place and eight points behind Bristol City and Fulham FC for the final playoff spot. Middlesbrough, Brentford, Sheffield United, and Preston North End all are in between the playoff spots and Leeds as well. The likelihood of Leeds catching fire and storming up the table is rather small, and it’s even more unlikely that all four of those teams, along with one of Bristol City and Fulham, would suddenly coming back to earth and drop enough points to allow Leeds to catch up.
If there is absolutely any chance of that happening, it has to start with a win against Bristol City. Leeds already beat Bristol City once this season, and ever since their remarkable victory over Manchester United in the League Cup, Bristol City has been struggling in the Championship as well.
However, if Bristol City is able to get any sort of result against Leeds this weekend, it’s time for Heckingbottom to call up the kids and see what he’s got in the U23s. Heckingbottom is considered a great coach in developing young players, as Liverpool loanee Ryan Kent said yesterday before he takes on Leeds with Bristol City. Kent should know, he had a breakout season last year with Barnsley FC with Heckingbottom in charge.
Leeds have invested lots of roster spots, wages, and transfer fees in the Academy ever since Andrea Radrizzani took over the club, and has even partnered with the Aspire Academy from Qatar in an effort to gain an advantage in regards to youth development and training techniques. It’s time to see if any of those players can step in and play next season, as Radrizzani said he said hoped to see when discussing the future of the club after the sacking of Christansen.
Heckingbottom has come out and said that youth will be given chances at the club, and once it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that a miracle run to the playoffs isn’t possible, it would be ideal for him to get those promising young players into the first team to blood them. First team experience is valuable, and with the playoffs out of reach, young players wouldn’t feel the pressure that any mistake could ruin the season.
Christiansen, for all of his faults, was more than willing to give Conor Shaughnessy a chance at first team football this season, just as Garry Monk was willing to give Ronaldo Vieira a chance last year. Heckingbottom needs to bring up a few players to provide depth for the future and who knows? Maybe the next Lewis Cook, Sam Byram, or even the next Alan Smith is currently playing in the U23s as we speak. It’s up to Heckingbottom to figure that out and help those players recognize their potential.
A few dropped points this season once the playoffs are out of reach are reasonable to expect if the club gets valuable experience for its youth players, and if the results don’t go the way that Leeds need this weekend, it’ll be vital for the future of the club to get those young players into the senior team.