Leeds United moved into 2024 on a strong run of form in the Premier League and having secured progression to the knockout stages of the Euro Cup with a 100% record thanks to striker Sidnei’s incredible goalscoring form.
A quiet January transfer window was dominated by the outgoings of attacking midfielder Armin Djerlek to Werder Bremen for £20.5 million then centre-back Benoit Badiashile moving to Mainz for £12.75 million.
In their place came a few youngsters, including the exciting holding midfielder / defender Bjorn Marinov for just £3.7 million.
Strangely mixed form
The new year started well, with a 4-1 thumping of Huddersfield Town inspired by two goals scored direct from free-kicks by holding midfielder Juan Carlos Calvo. But we then went on a streak of one win in nine games and just three wins in 16 matches in all competitions.
That included exiting the FA Cup to now Championship side Bournemouth and the Carabao Cup semi-finals against Liverpool – who we’ve still not beaten in nine meetings – then lose at Manchester City and lose at home to Tottenham Hotspur in the league. But bizarrely, that run of poor form also coincided with going 15 matches unbeaten from mid-February through to the end of April.
This was mainly down to a ridiculous amount of drawn matches – 9 of those 15 were draws. And this included the first three rounds of the Euro Cup knockout stages.
Our first European knockout experience pitted us against Real Socieded, with whom we drew 1-1 away thanks to Rodrigo De Paul’s early opener then 0-0 at home. Then we went up against Napoli and again drew 0-0 at home and 1-1 away, with Ahmed Zahran’s goal immediately cancelled out by Lorenzo Insigne.
That sent us through to the quarter-finals, where we faced another Italian opponent in Juventus. But we finally managed to win a game as we beat Juve 2-0 at home, through goals from the free-scoring Sidnei and De Paul, then drew 2-2 away – in which 39-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo came on as a sub to score in what would be his last ever European match – to confirm qualification to the last four.
Reaching league highs
Amid the Euro Cup progression, we’d also maintained a strong unbeaten run in the league. A vital 1-0 win over Chelsea at the end of March pushed us up into the top six, then a 0-0 draw at Liverpool – which was important, but still no win against them – was backed up with a 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal, which maintained a six point gap between us and them.
Fixture madness then saw us have to play away matches against Everton and Manchester United sandwiched in-between our Euro Cup semi-final against Marseille. That meant four matches in a week – so I prioritised resting the first eleven for Europe, which meant we got beaten 2-0 by Everton then spanked 4-0 at United.
We also succumbed to losing the first leg of the semi-final 1-0 in Marseille. But we brought them back to Elland Road and secured a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from our best two players, Zahran and Sidnei. Leeds were into the Euro Cup Final!
We then lost our final game of the league season 1-0 at home to Crystal Palace because I chucked our second string in and we’d already all-but confirmed fifth place – and Arsenal lost at Chelsea to confirm we did finish in a record high position for this save.
The season came to an exciting ending as we took on fellow Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Euro Cup Final. We had a poor record against Wolves, for whom Andre Silva always scores against us.
Indeed, that man Silva put Wolves ahead after 13 minutes. But my Leeds side rallied, despite being depleted by several youngsters going on international duty ahead of the game, and we equalised through Zahran. In truth, we got dominated by Wolves but we grabbed a goal through Konrad De La Fuente and managed to hold out for just over half an hour. We were Euro Cup champions, which also meant we would qualify for the Champions Cup next season!
Our players dominated the Euro Cup squad of the season, with Sidnei alongside Kylian Mbappe, alongside Zahran, the again impressive Jack Clarke, centre-back Gilberto and goalkeeper Jack Bowen.
But the main man this season was the awesome Sidnei, who smashed our club goalscoring record with 31 goals in 49 games, including 18 in 31 in the league. And we rewarded him with a huge new contract of £200k a week until 2029 to ward off interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The Euro Cup success also led to me being named a Leeds United icon, alongside the likes of Johnny Giles, Gary Speed, Gary Kelly, David Batty and Mark Viduka.
Join us next time to see how we get on alongside Europe’s elite in the Champions Cup and what we do with a huge boost in transfer budget.