After our astonishing late-season push to 11th place during our first season back in the Premier League in over 10 years, we were given quite a lot of money to work with. This meant that a lot of decisions had to be made about out starting 11. I honestly felt that there were many areas that we were not strong enough to compete in the Premier League, so I set out to change that. The only signing that I will mention before I jump into the main transfer update is who I believe to be the revolutionary signing of the save so far. I picked up Adnan Januzaj on a free transfer after Manchester United simply let his contract expire. As you can see during the entirety of this pre-season, he is a goal-scoring threat, which I don't believe we have ever had on the wing. I believe that his creativity on the right-wing will be an anchor point for our success this season.
Our first friendly was against local National League side, Halifax Town. They were simply a local warm-up before our training camp in the United States. The game went precisely as the game should, and we didn't really let them into the game. For our US training camp, we couldn't secure friendlies with any MLS sides, as their regular season was well underway. Given this lack of available talent to play against, we opted to simply play against the 3 main USNL teams in the southern US area. None of the games where difficult, and the boys pushed through all three of them. Then we came home to play the last 4 of our friendlies at Elland Road. The first two were against the two European Red Bull teams. First, the German upstarts RB Leipzig came. That was probably the most back and forth game of the pre-season. We went up early, then they equalized, then we scored late and they equalized. Hadi Sacko's late goal won that one for us. The game against Red Bull Salzburg was a much simpler affair, as we went 3-0 up in the first 23 minutes of the game. It wasn't until the closing minutes of the game that they grabbed consolation in a game that we maintained total control for the majority of the time. Then we played Doncaster Rovers, a league 1 team that we should definitely be beating. Which is exactly what happened, all thanks to a hat trick from the wizard-on-the-wing, Adnan Januzaj. Our last friendly of the pre-season was against the Spanish side, Villarreal. The game was even and competitive, which leaves me pleased that we could compete against a prominent European side, regardless of the fact that it was a draw.
Going into the summer transfer window, we were given a $26 million transfer budget, and a $20 million boost to our wage budget. This provided us with the capital to make the moves in the market that I thought were necessary, and allowed us to bring some quality players in. Now, the first thing that I wanted to do was shore up our midfield, which I considered one of our weakest points. We had young players that were developing nicely in Alex Mowatt and Ronaldo Vieira, and the signing from the winter that now gets to play, Oliver. Beyond that I didn't have any faith in our midfield. This was bad news for Leroy Fer, Raphael Guzzo, Nampalys Mendy, and our captain Liam Bridcutt. I simply didn't think that any of them had the quality to be our starting midfielders, and so I set out to find better.
The main two players I brought in for the midfield were Nathaniel Chalobah from Chelsea, and Alberto Grassi from Napoli. Unfortunately for Chalobah, I decided during the preseason to switch to a 4-2-3-1, effectively eliminating what would have been his position as a defensive midfielder. There will be some games where I find it necessary to bring him into the team, but I expect those to be few and far between. Alberto Grassi will be playing as one of our main midfielders beside either of our two talented youngsters. We also picked up midfielders Jack Byrne and Callum Gribbin on a free and for rather cheap, respectively. Both of them are being brought in in hopes of them developing nicely for the future.
The next big area that I wanted to strengthen was the defense. So, I went and spent a combined $25.5 million to bring in Jamaal Lascelles from Crystal Palace to be the other center-half to Pontus Jansson, Nathan Ake from Juventus, to take over as our starting left-back, and Pedro Pereira from Sampdoria to fill the void at right-back. With the addition of these three, I hope that some of our defensive failings from last season will be fixed. I also brought in the youngster Axel Werner from Atletico Madrid. He is going straight back out on loan, and I hope he develops into our starting keeper 5-6 years in the future.
The final additions I made were for the final third, where I replaced all except for our "star" striker, Joel Pohjanpalo. First, I brought Cristiano Ronaldo's shadow, Ricardo Quaresma in on a free transfer from Besiktas. Figured I could use him in some unique circumstance or another that I have not run into yet. He was easily one of the worst transfer decisions I have made since being here at Leeds. Next I brought in Ricardo Kishna from Napoli. He is the new man for the left wing, as I just wasn't getting the performances that I wanted out of Mikkel Duelund or Jack Barmby. I have already told you about Adnan Januzaj, the signing of the series, who I brought in on the right wing. as backup to Oliver, I brought in Filip Krovinovic from Rio Ave. He is a similar player to Oliver, just a little bit worse. Might be able to use him alongside Oliver if I ever want to use a narrow formation. Lastly, I brought in Goncalo Paciencia from FC Porto. He is a technically gifted young complete forward that I see a lot of potential in going forward. He will serve as Joel Pohjanpalo's backup. I also brought Enes Unal on loan from Manchester City. He is the same quality as Pohjanpalo, maybe even slightly better. He is not, however, so much better that I risk either of my two forwards development. Thus, he will serve as a depth option.
At the very start of the summer, Antonio Di Natale retired and is now a coach for us. We sold Marcus Antonsson to Olympique de Marseille, who had him on loan during all of last season. He did a job for us in the Championship, but just didn't cut it in the Prem. Next, we sold Raphael Guzzo, who I honestly never was going to use. When I brought him in, I also brought Leroy Fer in, who was simply better so Guzzo got no game time. The we sold the two main fullbacks from last season, Luke Ayling and Enric Saborit. We sold Stuart Dallas to Birmingham City, as I didn't feel that he possessed the quality to compete in the Prem. Then we sold the outsiders Lewie Coyle and Jack Vann as neither were going to play for us. Lastly, we sold Andy Carroll. The fans were a bit confused about this one, as we brought him in, rarely played him, and then sold him on. We did double our money on him which is actually quite nice. We then loaned out a lot of our younger players who started for us over the last two seasons so that they could continue to develop. You can see their names listed above.
League Game 1 - 8/18/18
For the first game of the season, against West Ham, I have to say we were very excited and raring to go. This season looked like it could be a rather good one for us, and we felt prepared for what was to come. To line up, we had Marco Silvestri between the bars, a back four of Gaetano Berardi (Pedro Pereira was injured), Jamall Lascelles, Pontus Jansson, and Nathan Ake, Ronaldo Vieira and Alberto Grassi in the midfield, and Mikkel Duelund (Ricardo Kishna was injured), Oliver, and Adnan Januzaj line up behind Goncalo Paciencia (Joel Pohjanpalo was injured).
The game was close honestly, West Ham put up a fight, but it just wasn't to be for them. We maintained the edge of possession, and when they had the ball in the offensive third, we simply didn't give them any chances. Our strong defense held them to 2 out of 20 shots on target for the entire game. Pontus Jansson gave us the winning goal with a superb header from a set-piece and that was the last bit of real goal action in the game.
League Game 2 - 8/24/18
For this Roses Derby against Manchester United, Joel Pohjanpalo returns up top as the only change to our line-up from the game against West Ham. We look to build upon the win in our first game against this very strong United team, and we will try to replicate the success we found at the close of last season in today's game.
Again, it was a very close game. They took an early lead, but we maintained the edge on possession and prevented the majority of their shots from being clear enough to be on goal. We found our equalizer well into the second half from a headed goal from Oliver, our exciting young talent from Brazil. This brings our record to 1-1-1 with Manchester United since we have returned to the Premier League.
EFL Cup 2nd Round - 8/28/18
For this game against Crawley Town, we maintained our same starting 11 from the United game, as I am done with not fielding full-strength sides in the cups. We went into this game fully expecting victory, and it is what we would play for, especially after our disappointing crash out of this competition last season.
As expected, we won the game with relative ease. We maintained the majority of possession, and of their 9 shots, the only one on target was the one that turned out to be their only goal. Joel Pohjanpalo got his hat trick, and Adnan Januzaj also got a goal in. After they got their consolation goal, one of their defenders received a red card, which definitely sealed the outcome of the game for them.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, we will try to build upon these early wins, and the excellent game we played against Manchester United. In the EFL Cup we will play against Crystal Palace for the 3rd round. I expect that we will win the game, as we have lost every game against Palace since we have been back in the Prem, and I expect they are due a defeat. Regardless of the outcome, I will not be bringing you that game. I will either be bringing you the fourth round of the EFL Cup, or some League games around the 13th game mark. Our early schedule is relatively easy, so I hope to get an early jump on the points race this season, as we look to build upon and place better than 11th.
FM fanatic and football pundit