Leeds United moved into 2023 having easily secured qualification to the knockout stages of the Euro Cup.
This was secured as the 2022 World Cup was taking place in Qatar and the competition was won by France, who lifted the trophy after a penalty shoot-out victory following a 0-0 draw with Italy – which was fairly predictable.
They’d beaten Mexico 3-0 in the semi-finals, while Italy had progressed to the final on penalties after another 0-0 draw with Portugal in semis and beat Brazil on penalties in the quarter-finals after a 1-1 draw. Boring boring Italy.
Antoine Griezmann won the Player of the Tournament, while Andrea Belotti won the Golden Boot ahead of Griezmann and Diogo Jota, who now plays for Dorussia Dortmund.
Getting back to domestic matters, there was very little transfer activity with only young Ajax centre-back Gideon de Haas and Rhian Brewster, who I signed to top up our British contingent, coming into the club. While there were no permanent outgoings, just a handful of loans.
The return to domestic football, having not played in the league for fully three months, did not start well. A 1-0 defeat at Chelsea in the FA Cup third round was followed by a defeat on penalties in the Carabao Cup semi-final against Wolverhampton Wanderers – which was reduced to a one-off game rather than the usual two-legged affair. We then went and lost two more games 3-0 at home to Arsenal then 2-1 at Fulham.
We got back to winning ways with a 3-1 win at Stoke City thanks to a Leonel Larrahondo double then followed that up with a 3-0 victory at home to Leicester City, thanks to a Rodrigo De Paul brace and a third from centre-back Benoit Badiashile.
A 2-1 loss at West Brom, in which we’d led through De Paul, was followed up by 2-1 wins over Chelsea, thanks to De Paul again and Jack Clarke, and Watford, with goals from Sidnei and Ahmed Zahran.
But then a truly terrible April happened, with five straight defeats in all competitions including, of course, losing at Liverpool and completing a streak of eight defeats in 10 games. However, it ended with a 4-1 victory over Newcastle in which the excellent Sidnei bagged a hat-trick and Badiashile got the other.
The season ended with defeats at Manchester City and Arsenal sandwiched by a 1-0 win over Huddersfield and a 3-1 win at home to West Ham on the final day.
It wasn’t exactly the most exciting of seasons but we did finish in seventh place, which confirmed European qualification again for the 2023/24 campaign. The good news was that our defence was much improved on the previous season with only 47 goals conceded, an improvement of 21, but we scored 12 less goals. We actually managed two points more than the previous season, winning four more but losing six more and only drawing four times all season.
Rodrigo De Paul had been by far our standout player, finishing the season with 27 goals and 15 assists in all competitions. He scored the fourth most goals in the Premier League, only bettered by Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Kasper Dolberg, and the joint-fifth most assists.
However, his total assists tally was bettered by Jack Clarke, who broke his own Leeds record with 16, as well as scoring 16 goals in all competitions.
The season ended with more exciting personal achievements as Leeds youth product central midfielder Jamie Shackleton made his debut for England.
Clarke and Shackleton have been in the first-team right from the start of this save, with both now well established among the first names on the teamsheet. Both have only ever played for Leeds, with 22-year-old Clarke having racked up 176 league appearances and 52 goals, while Shackleton has 10 goals in 121 league appearances.