May 6, 2023 7:36 pm
Since sacking Jesse Marsch, Leeds United have seemingly scrapped the style that brought them to the Premier League under Marcelo Bielsa, showing signs of panic as they stare down the barrel of relegation.
It has been a season to forget thus far for Leeds United fans as they face the bleak reality of a potential relegation back to the Championship after only returning to the English top-flight three seasons ago following their 16-year spell in the depths of the English Football League (EFL).
Too many goals leaked and flurries of injuries throughout the season have cost the Yorkshire outfit, leaving them 17th in the Premier League table, level on points with Nottingham Forest, and only outside of the relegation zone due to their superior goal difference.
Although, with only four games remaining and in dreadful form under former manager Javi Gracia, Leeds United officially announced the arrival of Sam Allardyce for the remainder of the season.
Sam Allardyce’s Resume
It was the 2000/01 campaign when Sam Allardyce burst onto the management scene for the first time, where he was able to gain promotion with his boyhood club Bolton Wanderers into the English top-flight division in only his second season in charge.
Big Sam’s achievements at Bolton, however, did not end there, as he was then able to solidify their top-flight status for two consecutive seasons before landing his side in eighth place in the 2003/04 season.
Then, in the following season, his side were able to produce an even greater outcome than the one they had achieved beforehand, qualifying for the UEFA Europa League and finishing sixth in the Premier League.
After eight years in charge of the Trotters, Allardyce joined Newcastle United in 2007 before being sacked by the Magpies in January 2008, only eight months after he had been given a three-year deal.
His next managerial journey was with Blackburn Rovers, where he spent a total of two years, finishing mid-table under his leadership in both seasons before parting ways in December 2010.
But it was at West Ham United that Allardyce’s stock seriously rose, being tasked with bringing the East London side back to the Premier League after their relegation in the following season.
A task that he relished, as he took them up through the playoffs that season, then followed on to keep them up with two games remaining in the next campaign.
Consistency at West Ham kept him in the job until 2014/15, when he chose to walk away from the role after four years of service and allow the club to progress without him.
Next up on Allardyce’s managerial agenda was the task of keeping a struggling Sunderland side in the Premier League, where he managed to defensively solidify the side and keep them in the Premier League.
However, the temptation of the England role was too much for Allaryce to resist, departing from Sunderland before losing his job only 67 days later.
Back to Premier League management: Allardyce took over Crystal Palace in December 2016, lingering in 17th place with 19 matches remaining.
Once again, Allardyce was successful at keeping Crystal Palace in the Premier League, leaving at the end of the season pledging to take a break from the game.
It did not take long for Allardyce to return from his break, though. He was appointed Everton’s new manager in November 2017, taking the Merseyside outfit to an eighth-place finish in the league before departing the club at the end of the season.
Then, two years later, after dancing with the devil continuously, Allardyce suffered his first relegation from the Premier League, taking over West Bromwich Albion in December 2020 in 19th position, unable to alter the mess that Slaven Bilic left as his predecessor.
Does Allardyce Fit Leeds?
Historically, Allardyce has not always produced the style of football that exactly gets fans off their seats on a consistent basis, usually relying on a strong defensive shape to keep the opposition out and typically using a direct style through the use of a strong centre-forward to hold up play and bring the team up the pitch when winning the ball back.
Leeds United returned to the Premier League with a bang in 2020, with their opening fixture setting the tone for how they would approach the rest of the season, losing in an epic 4-3 goal-fest against Liverpool, who at the time were a formidable outfit.
Under Marcelo Bielsa’s guidance, Leeds were not only able to just stay up that season but finished in the top half of the table, scoring the sixth most goals in the division, more than Arsenal and Chelsea.
Although Bielsa was hailed as a god amongst the Leeds faithful, his desire to work with a small squad and lack of backing from the Leeds ownership operating in such a frantic and high-energy-based system left them in a much more precarious position than the season beforehand.
This ultimately led to Bielsa losing his position in the Leeds dugout and bringing in Jesse Marsch to guide them to safety, which the American coach eventually did, beating the drop by three points.
Marsch also adopted what would be considered a more progressive approach to his football at Elland Road; however, it did not take the fans long to become worried about their side, where he used a very narrow formation, overcommitted in attack, failed to convert the chances they created, and was punished at the other end of the pitch, subsequently losing too many games.
Eventually, the Leeds hierarchy, like the fans, became impatient with Marsch’s philosophy, and Javi Gracia was brought in to stabilise the club and keep them in the division.
Although the plan that Leeds believed would ensure survival did not come to fruition, Gracia only lasted 70 days in charge, winning 25% of matches in his 12-game tenure.
In the position that Leeds United find themselves in, Allardyce is not a terrible appointment when considering their recent defensive record, but beyond this season, it would be unlikely that the fans would take to his tactical philosophy as much as his buoyant personality.
If Allardyce is able to keep Leeds afloat in the Premier League, next season is where the issues could lie with this appointment, as the style of football would be a strong contrast to Bielsa’s philosophy that saw them become one of the most exciting sides in the country, possibly leading to unrest amongst the fanbase over the ambition of their side.
Can ‘Big Sam’ keep Leeds up?
In regards to the short term, Allardyce is certainly an upgrade on Javi Gracia when comparing the resumes of the two coaches, with the British coach having significantly more experience in relegation battles in England’s top-flight division than the Spaniard.
Lying above the relegation zone, level on points with Nottingham Forest in 18th, Allardyce has four games remaining to save Leeds’ Premier League status, all against tough opposition.
With two away trips to the Etihad and the London Stadium and matches against Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur at Elland Road, it is safe to say that Allardyce has a job on his hands if he is to keep his new side up.
After experiencing the first relegation of his career with the Baggies in his previous job, the question of whether his tactics are still effective at the highest level of the modern game now presents itself.
Furthermore, with only four games remaining, installing a defensive shape and discipline amongst a squad that has conceded a league-high 67 goals this season could be a serious challenge in the limited time he has to work on the training ground.
Obviously, lying out of the relegation zone coming into game week 35 of the season, the task of keeping Leeds up is a realistic one, but taking into context the time remaining and the difficulty of their remaining fixtures, it would still be impressive if Allardyce was able to pick up results between now and the end of the season.
The appointment does stink of panic from the Leeds ownership but could keep them in the Premier League, which looked like a bleak possibility under Gracia’s tenure.
At the end of the season, this could be looked upon as a short-sighted yet incredible decision from Leeds, but with three managers in the space of a single campaign leading to relegation Russian roulette, the hierarchy at the club has been exposed for its poor decision-making and could suffer deadly consequences for their misguided actions.
Manchester City (A) – Saturday 6 May, 15:00
Newcastle United (H) – Saturday 13 May, 12:30
West Ham United (A) – Sunday 21 May, 13:30
Tottenham Hotspur (H) – Sunday 28 May, 16:30