It’s fair to say that Marcela Biela’s Leeds United had a very successful first spell back in the Premier League – after a 17-year absence. It had been a long time coming for the Yorkshire club, who finished the 2019-20 season as champions of the English second tier, 10 points clear of West Bromwich Albion. And the Whites certainly didn’t disappoint on their return for the 2020-21 campaign – finishing in ninth position, certainly not expected in the pre-season betting odds.
The challenge for Bielsa et al for this season is to at the very least, maintain their position in the Premier League’s top 10, or attempt to build on their learnings of their first season back in the top flight. All too often, promoted Championship sides fall foul of second-season syndrome – and while there’s no doubt that the Argentine manager won’t let his squad get complacent, they won’t want to replicate some of the shortcomings that these other teams recently did…
When Sheffield United returned to the Premier League in 2019-20, it was met by much jubilation by the Bramall Lane faithful – after all, the club had fallen as far as the depths of League 1, before landing two promotions in three years under Chris Wilder. They’d previously plied their trade in English football’s top flight in 2006-07, and had since yo-yoed between the Championship and League One.
Promoted as runners up as they returned to the big time, Sheffield United were tipped for relegation – but went on to defy the odds, as they finished ninth and two points behind Arsenal, who had secured the final place in Europe. Indeed, the Blades had too, flirted with the European spots throughout the course of the season – sadly, it wasn’t to be in the end, but they could be more than proud with their efforts and place in the top 10 is no mean feat.
Last season was nothing short of a write-off. While record-breaking feats are often applauded – the Blades made their way into the history books for all the wrong reasons. With just five points from their first 19 fixtures, it marked the worst evert Premier League start – and the writing was very much on the wall. Wilder departed in March, and their fate was sealed with six matches remaining. With just 23 points, the Blades spent the whole season in the relegation zone.
While Huddersfield Town didn’t quite reach the dizzy heights or a place in the top 10, the very fact they survived a first season in the Premier League was remarkable. Having been promoted via the Championship play-offs in 2016-17, the Terriers were making their Premier League debut the following campaign – and previously spent many years in English football’s third tier.
They weren’t exactly ground-breaking, but after going unbeaten in their first three matches, the Terriers sat in third position. Sadly, they were consistently inconsistent, racking up runs of defeats which saw them slide down the table, and eventually fall into the dreaded drop-zone. After picking up draws against the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City, the Terriers went on to finish a respectable 16th – albeit with a goal difference of minus 30.
And they became second-season syndrome sufferers. Despite defying the odds in their maiden season, if their fans thought that was bad – it was about to get a whole lot worse. Huddersfield occupied the relegation zone for much of the 2018-19 campaign, and after a run of nine matches without a win, Wagner departed and a week later, Jan Siewert took charge. He didn’t fare much better – a 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers his only victory. Either side of that, a run of 12 defeats and already a sinking ship, Huddersfield were relegated on March 30th – with 6 games left to play, and they didn’t win a single one.