Leeds United supporters know better than anyone that it would be premature to tip themselves for promotion after just 8 fixtures, but another compelling victory over Preston North End on Tuesday evening has plenty of fans daring to dream.
Marcelo Bielsa’s arrival at Leeds evoked a media frenzy which did wonders for the reputation of the Championship. If neutral supporters needed a reason to take interest in second-tier football then Bielsa was the man to provide it – so avid admirers of the Argentine said.
But the promises of Bielsa’s cult following have certainly been delivered so far as Leeds have stormed clear at the top of the division after taking 18 points from their opening 8 fixtures, despite suffering from a handful of injuries to key players. Whether or not Leeds’ form is sustainable remains to be seen, but the style of play which Bielsa has implemented suggests that they will remain entertaining to watch if nothing else.
Although Bielsa is still getting to grips with his new squad and forming conclusions regarding the players at his disposal, it seems abundantly clear that Samu Saiz represents a pivotal cog in the well-oiled Leeds machine. The Spanish wizard’s modest return of just 1 assist from the opening 8 fixtures is hardly the eye-catching return you would expect from a number ten who has played almost every minute of Leeds’ Championship campaign, but there are some things which statistics cannot illuminate.
Saiz is the creative hub of Leeds’ midfield; the man who all of his teammates can trust in possession; the playmaker who assists the assists; the key to Leeds’ promotion bid. Bielsa would certainly like to see him getting on the scoresheet and providing sumptuous assists on a regular basis, but that’s not why he’s so important to the club.
The Leeds supporters were delighted to welcome Saiz (valued at £3.15 million by Transfermarkt) to the club last summer after he scored 12 goals and provided 8 assists for La Huesca in La Liga 2 and, although he struggled slightly to get to grips with his new surroundings, he justified the hype on his debut season.
Now that he has been afforded ample time to adjust to the speed, intensity and physicality of Championship football and under a manager who is naturally drawn to players of Saiz’s technical ability, this should be the year for the Madrid-born playmaker to come into his own.
The concern for Leeds is that Saiz is a player who will naturally attract interest from Premier League clubs and beyond. A universal acceptance of what constitutes attractive football transcends cultures, languages and continents, and there is no doubt that supporters would unanimously agree that Saiz’s style falls into the bracket of attractive football.
Pep Guardiola’s success at Manchester City and Jose Mourinho’s comparative fall from grace at Manchester United has cemented a possession-based style of football as the new ideal for clubs up and down the country. Bielsa is certainly contributing to that growing trend and players like Saiz are making life easier for him, but if the silky number ten continues to perform at a high level there is no doubt that clubs in the Premier League and elsewhere will be watching with keen interest.
The stakes are high for Leeds this season not only because they are desperate to end their 15-year exile from the top-flight, but also because their failure to convert a positive season into promotion would leave a handful of players – including Saiz – vulnerable to the charm of lucrative wages and a higher standard of football.
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