Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
Dan Benn
Sports Writer
8:45 AM 19th September 2020

Yorkshire’s Premier Clubs: What Could Be In Store?

The Premier League returned with a bang this weekend as all but four teams took to the pitch. Two of these teams were Leeds and Sheffield United, both representing Yorkshire in the best league in the world, one for the first time in 16 years and the other for the second time in as many seasons. After both sides were defeated in their first game, what can we learn and what can we expect for the season ahead?

Leeds United

Leeds made an eye-catching return to the Premier League on Saturday night, putting three goals past the reigning champions, it did not stop them from failing to gain a point, however, as Liverpool scored four times.

The game was fast paced and always looked open, with both sides looking likely to score whenever they got forward, but neither side was particularly impressive.
In the last few seasons, Liverpool have been praised as being solid at the back, especially with Virgil Van Dijk at centre-back, but the Reds’ defence was off colour.

Mistakes from both Van Dijk and Joe Gomez allowed Leeds to create chances and get the ball in behind, whilst Mo Salah and Curtis Jones left a lot to be desired for Mateusz Klich’s equaliser.

Whilst Leeds didn’t offer mistake after mistake at the back, they were hardly solid when Liverpool attacked. You can see this by looking at the goals:

The first and fourth goals were both penalties, converted by Mo Salah and, whilst the first one was maybe unlucky on Robin Koch as the ball did bounce off him before striking his hand, his arm was in an unnatural position, so he didn’t exactly help himself. The second penalty was gifted as new signing Rodrigo felled Fabinho brainlessly. This was something that could have been prevented and eventually lost the game for United and, whilst you can sympathise a little with a striker who was defending a point for his team, mistakes like that can badly affect a newly promoted side.

The second goal was a header from a corner, as Virgil Van Dijk lost Koch who was meant to be marking him, leapt highest and his header wasn’t quite collected by Leeds goalkeeper Meslier. Whilst this looks preventable for the young, French ‘keeper, it is perhaps encouraging that he managed to get on the end of it at all.

The third goal was probably the most preventable of the three, but not in the finish. As the ball was crossed into the box, it was cleared by Pascal Struijk, but only as far as Salah who was given too much room to let the ball drop for him to smash the ball home from around 12 yards.

The encouraging signs are that Leeds limited Liverpool’s chances, but it is also worth noting that they didn’t create many chances themselves, their goals only coming from poor defending from Liverpool.

What does this mean for the rest of the season?
It is always hard to judge the rest of the season based off the opening game, but it seemed that there are two takeaways from last night’s game. If Liverpool continue to play how they did last night, they don’t look likely to win the league, however there is still time for them to turn it around before they come to the more crucial games.

For Leeds, the signs are varying. They looked impressive with the numbers that they committed when going forward, however it is worth noting that not every side will be as open as Liverpool were, and they will need to take more of the chances that they are given.

Leeds’ next game in the Premier League is at home to fellow promoted side Fulham. I can imagine that they will dominate the game and come out with all three points. The only possible problem bump for Bielsa’s men is that Fulham started well against Arsenal yesterday and looked like the sharper team until the first goal went in. Scott Parker’s side looked comfortable on the ball and willing to get forward and attack a side as good as Arsenal, so it will certainly be a good game, and a good judge of where both teams stand against a more realistic opponent.

Sheffield United

Sheffield United had an impressive campaign last year, finishing ninth in the Premier League, even after many believed that they would face the drop. Chris Wilder’s side stuck to their style of play and went toe to toe with even the biggest teams in the league, getting impressive results against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Chelsea. This season could be a different story however, as they will face to overcome something that newly promoted teams always dread: second season syndrome. They kicked off the 2020-21 season against fellow top 10 outfit, Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The game got off to a poor start for the Blades as Wolves took a 2-0 lead inside six minutes thanks to an impressive finish from Raul Jimenez and a header from Roman Saiss and it was clear to see that the South Yorkshire club were lacking the organisation that was ever present last season. You would think that they would have learnt their lesson from Saiss’ goal, but they didn’t and subsequently conceded chance after chance from set pieces.

This is something that will have to improve sooner rather than later, as the physical dominance of many other Premier League sides could be too much for United to handle.

As the game progressed, Sheffield United grew into the game and started to create more chances, however the closest they came to really troubling the Wolves goal was when John Fleck rattled a shot against the base of the post from the edge of the penalty area. This lack of chances created could be worrying for Chris Wilder as well as in the Premier League, you need to take those gilt-edged chances, something Leeds also discovered.

In terms of the rest of the season, the Blades should be alright. They aren’t one of the weaker sides in the league and it is clear from the first round of games that there are teams who will struggle a lot more, but those key weaknesses will need to be ironed out if they are to stay up comfortably. Wilder has brought in some good players who should settle in quickly which should expand the squad, allowing the key players to rest a bit more than they did last season.

The Immediate Future

As mentioned above, Leeds will host Fulham and Sheffield United will play Aston Villa this gameweek. Whilst these two clubs aren’t sides that should particularly trouble either Yorkshire team, these are the games that clubs with the ambitions of both Leeds and Sheffield United should be looking to win. A second gameweek in a row without a win could damage the teams in a way that is hard to recover form in this division, so both will be looking to prove why they deserve to be playing Premier League football next season.

Plenty of other Yorkshire clubs are in action in the Football League this weekend as well:

Saturday 19th

Brentford vs HUDDERSFIELD TOWN – 3pm
MIDDLESBROUGH VS AFC Bournemouth – 3pm
Reading vs BARNSLEY – 3PM
ROTHERHAM UNITED vs Millwall – 3pm
Charlton Athletic vs DONCASTER ROVERS – 3pm
HULL CITY vs Crewe Alexdra – 3pm
Forest Green Rovers vs BRADFORD CITY – 3pm
HARROGATE TOWN vs Walsall – 3pm