England forward Patrick Bamford enjoyed an injury-free campaign in the club’s first season back in the Premier League, finding the net on 17 occasions on his way to earning his solitary England cap to date.
The striker’s well-documented injury woes last term played an integral role in Leeds’ alarming relegation scare. Having featured in all 38 games the season prior, Bamford would go on to make just nine appearances last year, starting seven and scoring two goals.
The stark contrast between the free-scoring, confident sharpshooter of 2021/22 and the turmoil that followed in the next twelve months is the perfect metaphor for the whole club’s Premier League return. In the 28-year-old’s absence, wingers Jack Harrison and now-Barcelona star Raphinha took over the scoring burden, netting 19 of Leeds’ mediocre goal tally of 42.
Not only is Raphinha’s Catalan departure a worry for fans, but the fact the side relied so heavily on goals from wide players is a cause for concern as they transition into a narrower playing style under Jesse Marsch.
The American’s tactics employ three fluid tens in behind the striker, rather than having a traditional attacking midfielder flanked by touchline hugging wingers. Width will still be an option, notably with the exciting acquisition of Feyenoord’s Luis Sinisterra, but vertical play through the centre of the pitch will form most of the Whites’ attacks.
Whilst Marsch has been honest and admitted Bamford isn’t up to full speed yet, he did lead the line in Leeds’ opening day win against Wolves alongside front of a three of Harrison, Rodrigo and Brenden Aaronson. Sinisterra picked up a suspected hamstring strain in pre-season.
As direct competition for the number nine jersey, wonderkid Joe Gelhardt is hot on Bamford’s tail as he stakes his starting claim. Including penalties won, Joffy, as he’s known amongst supporters, had a hand in 6 goals in just 732 minutes last campaign and this week signed a new long-term deal at Elland Road.
The importance of certain goals can’t be ignored either: a last gasp winner against Norwich in March and a moment of brilliance to set up Pascal Struijk’s 92nd-minute equaliser in the penultimate fixture against Brighton.
Gelhardt’s development at Leeds, similar to Phil Foden’s gradual involvement over time under Pep Guardiola, looks to have been far more beneficial than the traditional lower league loan route would have been, but now is the time for the England U21 star to be properly unleashed.
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The departure of Tyler Roberts to Queens Park Rangers leaves Rodrigo and Dan James as alternative, albeit weaker, options up front as well. Former Valencia man Rodrigo was brought in as a centre forward when Leeds broke their transfer record back in the summer of 2020, but he has struggled for game time in that position and looks more accustomed to playing in the ten role.
For all of Dan James’ work rate, pace and aggression, the Welshman would be the first to admit his struggles deputising for Bamford. The club, keen to avoid a repeat of last season, have invested a large amount into the squad this summer, partly funded by the sales of Raphinha and Kalvin Phillips.
The recruitment has followed the much-discussed ‘Leicester model’ in chairman Andrea Radrizzani’s eyes, selling the largest assets at the peak of their value and investing the revenue into a more balanced overall squad.
Phillips’ switch over the Pennines has seen Marc Roca and Tyler Adams through the door at Elland Road. Raphinha went out, and Sinisterra and Aaronson came in. Whilst light at left-back too, the squad, on paper at least, looks to have far more depth and should be less reliant on standout figures.
A striker, however, is still a necessity. Speaking with The Athletic, Radrizzani admitted the club had agreed a £33.5m deal with Club Brugge for Belgian starlet Charles de Ketelaere.
Similar to Chelsea’s pursuit of Raphinha, the deal made more sense for the Jupiler Pro League champions to sell to Leeds, but de Ketelaere had his heart set on a move to AC Milan.
Brugge eventually settled for a lower fee with the Rossoneri and the forward got his dream move to the San Siro. Fresh of the back of a first Scudetto win in 11 years and with Champions League football on offer, few could argue with de Ketelaere’s decision.
“He was our icing on the cake, the special player,” Radrizanni regretfully added. The club have moved on are set to be pursuing other targets according to reports, with PSG’s Arnaud Kalimuendo and Rennes’ Martin Terrier under consideration.
Twenty-year-old Kalimuendo hit 12 Ligue 1 goals on loan at Lens last term and is reportedly available for around £22m. Reports from France however do indicate new Paris boss Christophe Galtier has been impressed with the youngster and would prefer to let Mauro Icardi depart the Parc des Princes.
Terrier meanwhile, with a surname likely to anger local rivals Huddersfield Town, enjoyed an outlandishly productive season, scoring 21 goals in the French top flight. In the two prior campaigns combined, Terrier found the net just 10 times. Both players are versatile forwards, with Terrier especially adept at playing on the wing.
Things can’t get much worse for Patrick Bamford this time out. If the striker can stay fit, goals will come naturally. All points suggest that Joe Gelhardt, despite his age and lack of game time, will go right to the very top. If Leeds recruit the right forward to complement the pair, the West Yorkshire outfit should be firing on all cylinders as the new campaign gets underway.
By: Jack Douglas / @JDouglasSport
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / James Williamson – AMA / Getty Images