Just when you thought he was out, they pulled him back in. Big Sam is about to return to the Premier League and he will have to be more ruthless than ever if he is to succeed in what could be his greatest success. escape.
That’s saying something considering Sam Allardyce, last seen demoted West Bromwich Albion in 2021, takes the reins of a Leeds side who are not quite in the relegation zone with four games left. However, had Javi Gracia stayed on, it would be a matter of when not if the Yorkshire giants had slipped into the bottom three and then into the Championship. After firing Jesse Marsch on February 6, they picked up 10 points, all leading in the Spaniard’s first six games. In the five that followed, they only earned one more.
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In this, of all seasons, it takes something to be the Premier League’s crisis club. Leeds might have been level with Tottenham in that regard, not only are they now on their way to their third head coach of the campaign but they have said goodbye to football director Victor Orta just as they switched head coaches.
Crucially, Gracia was unable to close the gaps in a defense that had been punctured under his American predecessor. In any case, he punched more holes in the colander and set a new Premier League record with the 23 goals conceded in April. There was quite a bit of variety and Leeds clearly fell victim to some hot finishes, opponents outperforming their expected goals (xG) by more than any other team during Gracia’s tenure.
Nor was there any sign of the second man in the lane solving the problems that had plagued those before him. Under Marsch, a largely unpopular figure among supporters because he was not Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds gave opponents shots worth 1.39 xG per game. Under Gracia, that figure was 1.98. His task was not made any easier by his absence Tyler Adams and, for most of his tenure, Liam Cooper. Likewise, a coach called in to restore defenses shouldn’t really allow for a weekly procession of high-quality shots.
Gracia didn’t fake the problems at Leeds. No club has a glass jaw like the whites. In return for Arsenal, Crystal Palace and so many other opponents since their promotion, they have responded to every setback by slumping in. One goal conceded earns two, earns three.
In such circumstances, the best version of Allardyce – cackling at Jose Mourinho and calling himself Allardici – could be the perfect manager. Get his team a solid back four, work on set pieces routines, job done. But the man who kept Sunderland and Crystal Palace in style in 2016 and 2017 had one precious commodity he lacks at Elland Road, an abundance of time. On both occasions, Allardyce not only had the chance to assess what he had, but also replace what he needed in the transfer window. There is no Wahbi Khazri or Luka Milivojevic on the horizon.
Spring may be Allardyce’s time to shine, but in the past he’s had time on this date on the calendar to build a system and forge a team that enjoys the role of spoilers against the biggest sides . This time, he takes on a party whose identity is no less clearly defined in all the wrong ways. Oh and that’s it Manchester City next one.