Having won The Championship title at the first attempt with Leeds United plenty of rebuilding and strengthening was likely to be needed to compete at Premier League level.
That began with offloading a whole host of players that weren’t going to be up to the task beginning with Eunan O’Kane, who I’d really struggled to get of the previous season, going to Peterborough for £230k.
Pawel Cibicki was sold to SPAL for £2.5 million, Laurens De Bock to Queens Park Rangers for £2.1 million and Jay-Roy Grot to St Pauli for £4.5 million. 19 players were allowed to leave the club through the summer.
We didn’t have a huge amount of money to work with, but the first thing I did upon confirming promotion was put in bids for Norwich City pair Max Aarons and Max Godfrey. Exciting young right-back Aarons arrived for £8.5 million and holding midfielder/defender Godfrey for £4 million. Then added more defensive cover and experience in former England defender Gary Cahill.
Given the lack of funds I focused on the loan market, with the most significant loan acquisition being that of Real Madrid youngster Martin Odegaard. We also brought in backup at left-back in Chelsea’s Jay Dasilva, then Ante Coric from AS Roma, winger Moussa Diaby from Paris Saint-Germain and young FC Bayern striker Joshua Zirkzee.
Life in the Premier League begins
Our return to the Premier League for the first time in 12 years didn’t start too well, as we were behind inside 11 minutes at Watford thanks to Gerard Deulofeu. But the boys rallied superbly with Jack Clarke getting us level within eight minutes then Barry Douglas curling in a free kick on 66 minutes to give us a narrow 2-1 opening day win.
Next up was a tough task as Tottenham Hotspur came to town. They also scored early through Gedson Fernandes’ eighth minute goal and held on to win 1-0. But we bounced back with another home game on Friday Night Football, seeing off fellow promoted side West Bromwich Albion 3-0 with goals from Pontus Jansson, Ezgjan Alioski and the main man Patrick Bamford notching his first goal of the season.
A Carabao Cup exit at Blackburn was followed by two consecutive league defeats, 2-0 at Leicester City then a really unlucky 3-2 loss at home to Liverpool in which they, surprise surprise, scored a 91st minute winner through Mohamed Salah.
A 1-0 win at Southampton, thanks to Kalvin Phillips’ 23rd minute goal, was followed by five straight defeats in which we only managed to score twice. Then a draw at Burnley and a win at home to Newcastle United thanks to goals from Samu Saiz, who’d returned from a loan at Getafe, and Jack Clarke was followed by a 1-0 loss at Everton.
But the poor form came to a dramatic end as the team hit top form in December. Zirkzee came off the bench to grab his first goals for the club and seal a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, then we snuck a 1-0 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers thanks to Clarke’s goal after an hour.
Then we somehow managed to get a 0-0 draw at home to Manchester City, and kept their star-studded side fairly quiet. We followed that up by doing the double over Watford with another 2-1 win thanks to a Bamford brace, beating Fulham 2-0 at home on Boxing Day with goals from Phillips and Alioski then a big 4-1 win over fellow promoted side Derby County, in which Alioski, Clarke and Bamford all scored again and substitute Tyler Roberts added a fourth in the last minute.
That strong December form saw me pick up my first Premier League Manager of the Month award. While loanee Zirkee, despite barely scoring for us, somehow picked up a personal award by winning the European Golden Boy.
We went into 2020 flying high in eighth position in the Premier League, which was way beyond my wildest dreams of what was possible, although the teams just behind us did have games in hand. Join us next time to see if Leeds can keep the good form going in their first season back in the Premier League.
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