LEEDS LEEDS LEEDS
The big Premier League story this midweek concerned a team who aren’t in it right now but will be next season, for the first time since the days Arsenal could go a season unbeaten. It’s… Leeds United, an actual giant of the English game who, somehow, have spent 16 years outside the top-flight due to [reasons]. Having arguably been the best team in the second tier for two seasons in a row, Leeds return to the Premier League in 2020-21 to launch a fourth era in it. The first was as the reigning champions of England as the new competition launched in August 1992. No-one really expected them to win again but equally no-one imagined the champions of England would go an entire season without winning a single away game, but they did, and finished 17th. The next era, a few campaigns on, came under the tutelage of manager George Graham, who was trying to rebuild his career post-Arsenal. A defensive priest, Graham achieved the impossible in 1996-97 when his Leeds team scored only 28 goals in 38 games but still came 11th. Pure rearguard sorcery from a team who drew 0-0 nine times that season. The third epoch was the David O’Leary hey-look-Leeds-are-challenging-for-the-title-and-oh-now-they’re-in-the-Champions-League-semi-finals era which, yes, ended badly, and is, essentially, the reason it is 16 years that Leeds have been in the Premier League, but also football is about memories so on balance: fair enough. Leeds’ return to the Premier League also means dusting off classics like the fact they’ve never lost on the opening day of a campaign (in 12 seasons) and are still 13th in the all-time Premier League table, even after all this time. Welcome back, Leeds United Football Club.
Some players have come out of lockdown in fine form, and no-one more so than Michail Antonio. The West Ham man has scored seven goals since football resumed, which puts him precisely level with the following players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Timo Werner and Andrea Belotti. Or, if you prefer, Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah combined. Or, if you really like carbohydrates, Declan Rice and Kevin Lasagna combined. The point is, if West Ham stay up, and their 3-1 against Watford on Friday night very much suggests they will, Antonio will deserve a statue outside London Stadium. He has scored as many goals this summer as Watford, one more than Burnley and one fewer than Sheffield United. West Ham aren’t quite a one man team but they are a team in need of one man right now.
It already feels like a lifetime ago but at Chelsea last Tuesday Norwich lost their 25th league game of the season, only the 42nd team in top-flight history to record a quarter century of defeats in a single campaign. With only two games left, the Canaries are in no danger of breaking Stoke’s record of 31 losses in 1984-85 (albeit in a 42-game season) or the mid-2000s nadir of Sunderland and Derby losing 29 times in 2005-06 and 2007-08 respectively. So, tough times for Norfolk’s premier side but at least they can take comfort at the fact that the last team to lose 25+ games *and* concede 100+ goals in a single season were their arch-rivals Ipswich Town in 1963-64. What made it even worse for Suffolk’s premier side was that it came only two seasons since they had been champions of England. And while Norwich will start 2020-21 back in the Championship, Ipswich will remain one division lower in League One. That’s the most refreshing thing about football sometimes: there’s always someone worse off than you.