Leeds United are heading towards the start of the season after finishing their preparations with a flourish against Cagliari, a 6-2 win at Elland Road.
There is often a lot made of pre-season games that end up being thrown out of the window when the first competitive game rolls around, and the same will be the case with Leeds.
That said, this is the first pre-season that Leeds fans have witnessed with a new manager since 2018, and there is plenty of optimism as well as concern regarding what has unfolded since the start of July.
The club have been busy to bring in new faces to rectify losing star players, and having done business early, those names look to have settled in nicely.
Here, we look at three key things that we have learnt about Leeds over the course of pre-season…
A clear identity
Jesse Marsch’s appointment back in the end of February was never going to bring a smooth transition from Marcelo Bielsa’s football, nor was any appointment.
The football was often difficult to watch as Marsch looked to implement some core principles while seeing his players revert to type in moments later in the campaign.
Despite implementing the somewhat divisive 4-2-2-2 setup previously, Marsch has gone for a more commonly seen 4-2-3-1, which is giving the side more balance in attack, as well as a lot of width.
The direct, vertical passing towards the forwards remains a core theme, but with more time now spent with this squad as well as new players arriving that are suited to the system, we’re seeing it now as just an aspect of different types of approach play, given that the full-backs now look more confident to get forward.
The game against Cagliari surmised that there is far more variety to Marsch’s attacking approach, with goals on the break, from either flank, directly through the middle, as well as from set pieces.
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Full-backs being caught in transition
As was the case with watching Bielsa’s Leeds, you have to take the rough with the smooth where Marsch’s attacking freedom is concerned.
Rasmus Kristensen and even a makeshift Pascal Struijk demonstrated yesterday that there is license to bomb forward whenever possible, adding even more width to the attack as we see Brenden Aaronson and Jack Harrison drift infield.
The issue that causes is that Leeds are still not water-tight when it comes to ball retention, so losing the ball in midfield leaves us dangerously open at the back, particularly outside of either centre-back.
It was a particular concern last season for both managers, and Marsch is yet to iron out such an issue, but what helps is that Leeds look far more organised without the ball, pressing better as a unit and able to recover possession quickly after losing it.
What pre-season doesn’t show you is how a match-sharp Premier League side can punish these mistakes.
Signings have improved the standard
Overall, what has helped us transition away from a side clinging on for life in the Premier League to one looking higher up the table is the new signings.
Aaronson, Kristensen, Roca, Adams, and Sinisterra all come from clubs with European pedigree to their names and with those standards, they’re above what we’ve had previously at Leeds.
It will take time for these players to gel perfectly, but you can already see the quality as a double-pivot that Adams and Roca have, complimenting each other well and dispelling early concerns about their shortcomings.
Adams has more in his locker than being just an energetic breaker of play, able retain possession very well while advancing the play too; and Roca isn’t just a slick passer, but covers plenty of ground as well.
As for Aaronson, his boundless energy, nimble feet in tight areas, and creativity in the final third make him a perfect addition to a side that has been crying out for that sort of midfielder for years.
It’s too early to tell whether this side will improve on last year, but the signs are there, and with more business expected – plus Luis Sinisterra’s return – things look positive.