Leeds United owe a lot to their defence for their excellent return to the Premier League. Despite being central to criticisms of Marcelo Bielsa’s “naive” tactics, the second half of the season saw defensive leaks patched up, enabling the Whites to end the campaign as one of the form sides in the division.
Despite the heroic character arc of a defence marshalled by the likes of Illan Meslier, Luke Ayling and Kalvin Phillips, the stars of the show have played their roles further forward. From Stuart Dallas, whose move into central midfield worked wonders for Bielsa’s side, to Patrick Bamford, who proved his many critics wrong in spectacular style, Part 2 of our 20/21 player ratings covers the midfielders and forwards who have led the line in Leeds’ much anticipated return to top flight football.
Appearances - 38
Goals - 8
Assists - 2
Passes - 1,813
Recoveries - 367
Moment to remember - Scoring that goal against Manchester City.
Moment to forget - We don’t think Stuart Dallas will want to forget a single second from this season. What a player.
If the statement was “I could not imagine this player bossing for us in the Premier League” four or five years ago, one of the many players it would apply to is Stuart Dallas. Indeed, he started only 14 times in the ill-fated 2017/18 season, and 10 times under Marcelo Bielsa a season later. Yet his versatility proved vital for last season’s promotion charge, and did so again as Leeds achieved a top-half finish back in the Premier League.
Going into the 2020/21 campaign, Leeds seemed eager to continue to play exactly as they had in the Championship, and while defensive injuries are partly to blame for a large number of conceded goals in the first half of the campaign, it was this approach that left Bielsa’s side vulnerable on the turnover against stronger opposition. Enter Dallas, the winger who had filled in perfectly at left-back last season. Only this time, he’d perform even better in central midfield, inhabiting a zonal role that - along with a stronger depth in defence - helped seal the leaks in the final stretch.
Last season Dallas was the consistent seven out of 10 man, but this season he has stepped it up a notch. Big teams have fallen victim to the majority of his eight goals, including Spurs, Leicester, Man United and, of course, Man City. Despite taking on a star status at Elland Road, he has not stayed in any single position long enough to call it home, with his 38 appearances spread across six areas across the pitch.
WINNER: Stuart Dallas has been named the 2020/21 @LUFC Player of the Year.— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) May 23, 2021
The Cookstown Cafu has been magnificent and enjoyed an exceptional campaign.
He played the most minutes in the Premier League for Leeds deployed in several different positions and scored 8 goals. pic.twitter.com/eXRKiTiUjt
This season, the Cookstown Cafu has been the Jack of all trades and master of several of them on top of that. Beyond his goalscoring exploits in central midfield, Dallas also impressed earlier in the season in games like the 4-3 thriller against Fulham, where he won 10 duels, completed five tackles and registered 11 recoveries. Even before he began to star in a role further up the pitch, his exploits in defence resulted in three chances created and a 90 percent passing accuracy during the 1-0 win away at Everton.
All of these matches have of course been trumped by his heroics at Manchester City. The Northern Ireland international dragged the 10 men of Leeds United across the line, scoring two excellent goals including a last gasp winner against Pep Guardiola’s eventual champions and European finalists. Whether he continues to thrive in the first team or is replaced by a new addition next season is yet to be seen, but Dallas has written his name into the history books either way. Of all the moments where we wished fans could have been there, that was the one. Season rating: 9
Appearances - 35
Goals - 4
Assists - 5
Passes - 1,185
Key passes - 44
Moment to remember - Scoring an excellent goal against Burnley to mark his return to form.
Moment to forget - Struggling to keep up with Scott McTominay, who scored twice in the first few minutes of Leeds’ 6-2 loss at Manchester United.
In the year 1066, Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson defended northern England against the Viking forces of Harald Hardrada, eventually defeating the invaders. But not long after winning the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Godwinson learned of William the Conqueror’s arrival in the south midway through marching his army towards London. The Anglo-Saxon forces averaged around 27 miles every day in a week-long march, and they eventually met the French invaders in the Battle of Hastings. They were promptly defeated by the Normans’ devastating cavalry.
For some reason, this is the first historical anecdote that came to mind when looking back on Mateusz Klich’s season, and his wider career at Leeds. Essentially, he gave everything he had to get the Whites to the Premier League, and a limited pre-season ensured he had little left to give when their top flight journey began. He started well enough, with two goals in as many games against Liverpool and Fulham, but by the campaign’s halfway point Klich looked a jaded player. His usually subtle yet significant impact on games, which saw him identify space and link up play in attacking areas, had become limited and left him looking invisible in many of the matches he played. Ironically, he had one of his better games during this period against Chelsea in a very different battle at a very different Stamford Bridge.
Eventually though, the man who had played such a vital role in Leeds’s promotion, playing all but one match across two seasons under the demanding Marcelo Bielsa, was dropped from the Whites’ starting 11 - coinciding with the improvement of Tyler Roberts. For much of the second half of the season, the 30-year-old was restricted to short spells coming off the bench, giving him little time to leave his mark. The rest was important for the Polish international though, and allowed him to enjoy a final hurrah before being given early leave by Bielsa.
He looked more like his old self in the 3-1 win over Spurs, having three shots on goal and creating two chances for his teammates. This was followed by the visit to Burnley, where the Cracovia academy product unleashed a superb opener from outside the box. It was a happy ending to a difficult season for Klich, formerly a consistent starter who was then forced to fight for minutes from the bench. The man himself admitted that, now he is the wrong side of 30, Bielsa’s training is beginning to take its toll on his body. Looking to next season, he is sitting at a crossroads; whether he is able to rediscover the form that made him a fans’ favourite largely depends on summer reinforcements, and whether Bielsa retains the slightly more defensively-minded midfield instructions that helped to steady the ship midway through the campaign. Season rating: 6.5
Appearances - 17
Assists - 2
Passes - 290
Chances created - 8
Nutmegs - 1 (...that I remember, please feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken)
Moment to remember - Waving goodbye to Leeds fans after entertaining them one last time in his swansong appearance.
Moment to forget - Reacting angrily to being substituted in Leeds’ 4-1 loss at Leicester City.
As harsh as it feels to give Hernandez a fairly average rating, that was one of the kinder ways of describing his season up until his final appearance for the club against West Brom. He completed 90 minutes just once in his last season at Leeds, in the 3-0 defeat at Crawley. Near-perfect was as good as his swansong had to be to make up for the circumstances which stunted Hernandez’s closing months as a Whites player.
There were flashes of the Pablo we know and love, including his marvellous eight minutes against Newcastle in which he provided two assists and his bright cameo in the loss at Tottenham, when he created two chances and completed two long balls and two dribbles. Otherwise, the 36-year-old largely succumbed to a mix of limited minutes on the pitch and the relentless, inevitable marching of time.
Pablo Hernández tears up as his name rings out around Elland Road, lovely touch pic.twitter.com/YcGYOYI5Y7— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 23, 2021
Time was something on every Leeds’ fans mind when they watched Hernandez take to the Elland Road pitch for the last time, through teary eyes. It was the first time since last season’s win over Huddersfield that fans were in the ground, and yet the final time they’d witness El Mago in a Leeds shirt. Who didn’t wish they could turn back the clock and watch the former Spain international score his first Whites goal - a superb curling effort in a 2-0 win over Cardiff City? Who wasn’t regretting the fact that they could not witness his iconic winner at Swansea in person?
To his credit, Hernandez evoked just about every emotion from Leeds fans in his limited number of appearances. As bittersweet it is to see him leave, we can be thankful that he turned back the clock in front of fans on the final day of the campaign. There were few better ways for the club legend to depart. Season rating: 6.5
Appearances - 27
Goals - 1
Assists - 2
Shots - 26
Recoveries - 99
Moment to remember - Finally scoring his first Premier League goal at Southampton.
Moment to forget - Struggling to recall a specific moment, but his general lack of impact in his earlier appearances of the season.
Last season it was Bamford, this season it was Roberts. Social media would have you believe he was the worst player in the Premier League, and a section of fans allowed a classic bandwagon to impede their ability to acknowledge that, actually, the Welshman wasn’t half bad come the end of the campaign. He was unfortunate to only have a goal and two assists to show for his efforts, having had a handful of offside decisions go against him and hit the woodwork against Chelsea.
Admittedly, the West Brom academy graduate had a slow start to the season, and it wasn’t until February when he completed 90 minutes. In his opening appearances of the campaign, he seemed to have little to no impact playing in attacking midfield and could be frustrating in possession. However, the dropping of Klich paved the way for Roberts to prove himself in consistent starts, and the performances picked up.
Not a fan of the hive mind 'Tyler Roberts is awful' because he played badly against Hull in the cup. The PL is a hard step up to make, especially if you're only playing 8 minute cameos. He looked lively yesterday. Give him chance.— Tasker (@Mr_Tasker) January 17, 2021
While his decision making holds him back, the 22-year-old is still blessed with good ball control, particularly after receiving the ball. He is also an accomplished presser and seemed more capable than Rodrigo of doing the hard yards for much of the campaign. Despite the flack he received regularly from fans insistent that he was not a Premier League player, he certainly improved over the course of the campaign.
Whether he has a future at Elland Road is another question; as he enters the final 12 months of his contract, Leeds are already dreaming of a push for the European places, and youngsters like Crysencio Summerville, Joe Gelhardt and Sam Greenwood are waiting in line for first team opportunities. Phillips was 22 when Bielsa transformed his fortunes as a player, so there is time yet for the Welsh international to improve, but first he needs to find his place. Does he compete for a place in attacking midfield or settle for a backup striker role? He is definitely one of the more uncertain players in the squad, but can build on a respectable campaign. Season rating: 7
Appearances - 27
Goals - 7
Assists - 2
Shots - 48
Chances created - 33
Moment to remember - Scoring an equaliser in the battle of the minds between Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Moment to forget - Conceding a penalty late on during his debut in the 4-3 loss at Liverpool in September.
When seeking to prove the importance of a good preseason, look no further than Rodrigo. Given Bielsa’s preference to play him in the ‘Pablo role’ while entrusting Bamford in the number nine position, there was some confusion among Leeds fans as to why the club had made him their record signing given the nature of his new role as opposed to his natural attributes. That all changed towards the end of the season, of course, which saw three goals in the Spain international’s final four matches.
His critics were not exactly wrong to have their doubts, however; at first glance, the £27 million signing seems to have plied most of his trade as a right-forward, while his struggles to get up to speed with the amount of pressing required of him casted doubt over his ability to play in a Bielsa side. Ultimately though, all that held the 30-year-old back was his limited preseason and trouble with injuries that restricted his consistency in the starting 11. In terms of raw talent, the Spaniard rivals Raphinha as Leeds’ outright best player; we saw glimpses of that in games like the 1-1 draw against Man City, and more conclusive evidence in the season run-in.
Marcelo Bielsa: "Rodrigo is at a very high level. One of the strikers for Spain, and the Spanish national team is a powerhouse. He is a player that takes a while to get to his full form. When he finally finds his full form, he is a player that is very unbalancing." #LUFC https://t.co/oCG4DmwyU3— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) May 16, 2021
Burnley were the major victims of Rodrigo’s superb movement and world class finishing at Turf Moor, and even before his burst of form towards the end of the season he found joy operating as an attacking midfielder against lesser opposition in the Premier League. Despite playing considerably less minutes compared to his final years with Valencia, his shot-creating actions per 90 minutes tally (4.47) was markedly higher than the next best tally (3.0 in 17/18).
It felt harsh of Luis Enrique to leave the 25-time international out of his Spain squad for the upcoming European Championships, especially as he only chose a squad of 24 rather than the maximum 26, but a lengthened break over the summer followed by a full preseason under Bielsa could set Rodrigo up to be one of the club’s star players in the 21/22 campaign. Season rating: 7.5
Appearances - 37
Goals - 8
Assists - 8
Crosses - 119
Chances created - 67
Moment to remember - Leaving Alexander-Arnold and van Dijk in the dust on his way to scoring Leeds’ opening goal of the season against Liverpool.
Moment to forget - Not a moment, but a generally forgetful spell midway through the season which saw his inconsistency get the better of him.
In five years’ time, expect Jack Harrison to pose a strong challenge for the Ballon D’Or. At least, that’s what his exponential improvement during his time so far at Elland Road suggests he will go on to achieve. Having ended his first campaign with just a few glimpses of his potential, the Manchester City loanee has come a remarkably long way - and while inconsistency is still a concern, 16 direct goal contributions in a debut top flight season is nothing to be scoffed at.
Harrison has treated Leeds fans to his ever-growing array of talents during his hot-streaks throughout the season: his exceptional first touch is surely among the best in the division, and has made him the perfect target for Kalvin Phillips’ long balls forward; his abilities to cross and run at defenders with the ball at his feet makes him a versatile option for Bielsa, delivering teasing balls from the left or cutting inside from the right; and his shooting capabilities have seen him score arguably the goal of the season against Newcastle (above). That’s not even touching on his eye for a pass, which has helped him wrack up eight assists, including two exquisite balls for Rodrigo in the 4-0 win at Burnley.
All but confirmed that Jack Harrison will be joining Leeds United permanently this summer, what a season he's had Improving every season under Bielsa, can't wait to see what he can offer next season, 11 million is looking like a bargain. #LUFC #MOT pic.twitter.com/G7F2adjlRP— FocusOnLeeds (@FocusOnLeeds) May 26, 2021
Season on season, the 24-year-old has continued to develop, and a slight lack of consistency that saw him endure some quiet spells this season was all that separated him from being a more serious challenger for player of the season. Three campaigns under Marcelo Bielsa has left the former New York City winger in excellent shape, and for much of the season he has been one of the most effective players when pressing from the front. 38 successful tackles and 208 recoveries highlights his effectiveness at winning the ball high up the pitch.
It has been all but confirmed that an £11 million move will see Harrison make his association with Leeds permanent, having played well over 100 times while on loan from the Citizens. Ultimately, that is a bargain fee for a player who will undoubtedly be knocking on the England door should he continue his current rate of development. Eight goals, eight assists... Season rating: 8
Appearances - 23
Goals - 3
Assists - 3
Dribbles - 47
Progressive yards in possession - 1,213*
Moment to remember - Scoring two excellent goals against Fulham to help Leeds on their way to their first victory back in the Premier League.
Moment to forget - Scoring an unfortunate own goal at Crystal Palace, which brought an end to his regular involvement in the first team.
Of all Leeds’ signings at the start of the season, Helder Costa resembled the greatest gamble. Jack Harrison’s consistent improvement may have boded well for Costa, and he did register four goal involvements in the first six games of the campaign, but the arrival of Raphinha coincided with poor form which the £16 million winger has struggled to recover from.
His driving runs forward played a part in his memorable performance in the 3-0 win at Aston Villa, which was after he had scored two exceptional goals against Fulham in a typically Championship-esque affair between the newly promoted sides, but his future with Marcelo Bielsa’s established Premier League outfit is among the most uncertain in the squad.
Despite Raphinha firmly holding down a place in the first team, there was a mild improvement from Costa off the bench, as his progressive runs proved useful for Leeds when he embarked into the action late on in matches. A season-ending injury did Costa no favours, though, and he can expect his role in the next campaign to be limited if he manages to avoid being offloaded. Season rating: 6
Appearances - 15
Dribbles - 26
Progressive yards in possession - 683*
Passes - 98
Chances created - 6
Moment to remember - An energetic display against his former club Manchester City after coming on at half-time.
Moment to forget - Failing to win a penalty after being fouled by John Stones, a result of him staying on his feet and subsequently highlighting the position modern footballers are put in nowadays.
Managing 14 Premier League appearances off the bench warrants a place in this piece, but Ian Poveda may be looking over his shoulder given his slower-than-ideal progress since making the step up to the top flight. A host of U23s players will be hoping for first team minutes next season, and Poveda will have to improve to give himself a fighting chance of playing a substantial role for Leeds in the future.
A handful of his cameos, particularly his 45 minutes against Manchester City at Elland Road, have shown promise; he possesses a decent degree of talent with the ball at his feet and is a tricky player for opposition defenders to deal with. However, he is lacking in his decision making and his final product, both of which have held him back from playing a more consistent role off the bench. Season rating: 5.5
Appearances - 31
Goals - 6
Assists - 9
Dribbles - 118
Chances created - 73
Moment to remember - Ending Gary Cahill’s career with a ludicrous nutmeg at Elland Road in February.
Moment to forget - Not fully turning up to the 1-0 loss against Brighton and goalless draw versus Chelsea is as bad as it got for the new signing.
Remember when we were trolling Rennes supporters with a plate of fish and chips? It was rather fun at the time (and is still quite funny now), but we didn’t really know what all the fuss was about. Now though, it’s fair to say that we would have reacted just as angrily had we been in the position of Rennes fans, whose club sold Raphinha for less than they’d signed him for after a single campaign. £17 million ended up being a bargain for the most technically gifted player Elland Road has seen since it was last a Premier League venue.
Heading into the season, Leeds boasted Jack Harrison - a talented and consistently improving winger - and Rodrigo - a gifted forward with Champions League experience. But Raphinha’s arrival introduced a star who performed on another level under Marcelo Bielsa. He has been exceptional with the ball at his feet, feeding numerous highlights reels with incredible skills that have left seasoned top flight defenders with their legs in a twist. His tendency to almost always opt for difficult passes may cost his distribution accuracy, but it has resulted in a host of created chances and nine assists in his debut English campaign.
As well as being an immensely tricky winger capable of deft switches of play, deliveries and through balls, Raphinha also established himself as the protagonist of a Leeds side that scored more goals from outside the box than any other club in the division. He demonstrated in the 1-0 win at Everton that even if he is quiet for the majority of a match, he can pull a goal from nowhere. Essentially, he can make anything happen at any time, and that makes him a considerably dangerous and frightening attacker for opponents to deal with.
Having already established himself as a fan favourite and attracted unlikely rumours with some of the ‘Big Six’, the 24-year-old has hit the ground running in a way that none of his fellow new signings could match. With a full preseason for him and his teammates to reset and new signings, he threatens to be an absolute force come August 14, and despite setting the bar high in his early days at Leeds, we are surely yet to see the Brazilian at his true best. Season rating: 8.5
Patrick Bamford - 8.5
Appearances - 38
Goals - 17
Assists - 7
Shots - 105
Pressures - 605
Moment to remember - Scoring a perfectly executed hat-trick to end Aston Villa’s early run of form.
Moment to forget - Having a goal against Crystal Palace ruled out by VAR due to him pointing where he wanted the ball played at Selhurst Park in November. We’ll always remember it though.
Where are you now, talkSPORT? Questions were raised over whether Patrick Bamford would even manage one goal in the Premier League with Leeds United. He’s ended the season with 17. Consider the seven assists on top of those, and you’re left with the closest England could possibly get to the ideal Harry Kane alternative. They are not identical strikers, of course, but the well-roundedness that Bamford has exuded throughout this campaign can certainly draw comparisons with the Golden Boot and Playmaker Award winner in North London.
While his harshest of critics still point at the number of big chances the 27-year-old has missed this season, the rest have been converted into admirers of a striker who has utterly shone this season, repaying the faith shown in him by Marcelo Bielsa - and then some. Not only has his finishing been excellent, but his movement off the ball has been world class at times, and all Leeds fans are aware of his importance in defending from the front and pressuring opponents’ back lines.
Bar his failure to break into Gareth Southgate’s England squad, it has been a season of success stories for Bamford. He has endured plenty of difficult moments prior to breaking through in the Championship with Middlesbrough, before he stepped up to an entirely new level with Leeds. At Chelsea, the striker failed to make a single appearance after coming through the academy. Crystal Palace and Burnley were among the Premier League clubs he had suffered fruitless loan spells with. But the fruits of his labour were so sweet when he scored against all of them this campaign.
While his importance off the ball was no mystery to Leeds fans last season, many could not look past his tally of 16 goals from an xG of 24. That is all in the past now, though. Bamford is a fan favourite at Elland Road, and under Bielsa he is finally realising, or maybe even exceeding, the potential he held as a youngster at Stamford Bridge. Here’s to 17 more in 21/22. Season rating: 8.5
Which player from Part 2 has had the best season with Leeds?
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