Relegation a very real threat for Leeds United - but it may not be down to second-season syndrome

Hovering just above the bottom three, Marcelo Bielsa’s men might have to do something his sides have never been afraid to do in the past - work harder.

It seems no one can talk about Leeds United's sorry start to the 2021/22 Premier League season without mentioning second-season syndrome, so let's get it out of the way early on.

Sheffield United were the latest team to succumb to the so-called curse of the second season in the top flight, plummeting from ninth in 2019/20 to finish rock-bottom in 2020/21.

They were not the first. Ipswich, Reading and Birmingham all plunged into the second tier off the back of impressive debut campaigns in the top flight.

Now the vultures are circling Leeds, who after finishing ninth last season, find themselves just a place outside the bottom three.

Even the bookies, always the harbingers of doom, are shortening the odds for Leeds to be relegated on what seems like a weekly basis. Planet Sport Bet now have Leeds down to 11/2 for the drop, at the start of the season it probably wasn't a market even the most pessimistic Yorkshireman was looking at.

So, have Leeds been 'found out', as those before them were, is it just a blip, or is there something more to their decline. And could Leeds United actually be relegated? Planet Sport looks at the season so far for the West Yorkshire side.

Leeds suffering from over-hype?

Patrick Bamford Leeds goal celebration

Last season's media darlings and everyone's favourite second team (apart from fans of Manchester United, Sheffield United, Chelsea, Bradford, Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday, Hull…), the fawning which accompanied Marcelo Bielsa's side was completely off the scale.

The Premier League was so lucky to have Leeds back, cried the pundits, hailing Bielsa as a master tactician and his side as the great entertainers.

Certainly, for the neutral, if they wanted to see goals, a side that shipped six to Manchester United and four to each of Liverpool, ArsenalLeicester and er, Crystal Palace was guaranteed to have them tuning in.

And, they could afford to be gung-ho, they had goals in them, too. Five against Newcastle and West Brom, four against Burnley and Fulham and even three in the opening-day defeat to Liverpool.

Marcelo Bielsa Raphinha Leeds Oct 21

That was on the back of a stellar season for Patrick Bamford who surprised everyone (especially those who had seen him in his previous top-flight stints) by netting 17 goals in 38 appearances, while Stuart Dallas and Jack Harrison chipped in with eight apiece from midfield.

Eight games into the current campaign, the trio boast just one goal between them.

Raphinha is already halfway to his 2020/21 haul of six but that is off the back of 24 shots and can be put into perspective by a glance at Jamie Vardy's figures for Leicester. Vardy has had one fewer shot than Raphinha but has scored four goals more.

Injuries exposing Leeds' lack of depth?

Dan James Leeds Oct21

Wayward shooting and a lack of goals from midfield aside, United have also been hamstrung by a run of injuries which have depleted a squad that lacks depth.

Wth Raphinha, Bamford and Kalvin Phillips all missing in the defeat to Southampton, Leeds failed to muster a shot on target.

It underlined the glaring deficiency in their squad, a lack of suitable back-up for their three most influential players.

Winger Dan James and Rodrigo shouldered the attacking burden against the Saints but only emphasised how little £30million gets you nowadays.

James' signing in particular, looks a strange one. Yes, he was available, yes he had Leeds links but a ball-playing midfielder should have been top of their summer shopping list. Without Phillips, Leeds are unable to dictate play and long balls over the top for James to chase are just inviting pressure back on themselves.

At the other end of the pitch, injuries haven't helped the centre of their defence and it would have been even worse but for Illan Meslier who has made the most saves in the Premier League this season - 31.

Leeds failing to put the miles in?

Leeds at Southampton Armando Broja Stuart Dallas

A final and perhaps more telling difference between United's 2020/21 and 2021/22 campaign is the amount of ground they are covering during matches.

Their ability not to let opponents settle was a standout feature of their first season back in the top flight, as was winning the ball back high up the pitch.

Their 3-0 win over Aston Villa last October saw United cover 9km more ground than their opponents.

However, last Saturday, Leeds were outrun by Southampton. It was only the second time this has happened since their return to the Premier League (the only other time was when they played 50 minutes with ten men against Manchester City and even then they only fell 300m short of their opponents).

In fact, Leeds are covering on average 3km less a game this season as they did last - 107.4km to 110.6km.

It may not be that Leeds are suffering second season syndrome, have been found out or failed to strengthen in the summer, it may just be that they have gotten lazy.

READ MORE: Little chance of Solskjaer seeing out the season at Manchester United, say bookmakers

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