Leeds United face a seismic January in addition to transfers to deliver rise in the middle of the table – Beren Cross

Aside from the embarrassing distraction of a can from League Two Crawley Town, last January did not have the same significance for Leeds United as next month.

At no point in 2020/21 did it feel like the Whites were ever under any serious threat of relegation or even the bottom quarter of the Premier League table.

The losses to Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton & Hove Albion were harmless, but three points at Newcastle United was a reassuring victory before the season’s performance at Leicester City was without a doubt.

Even in the transfer market, the injuries were not at the crisis point and the squad was well-stocked after major summer investments for a push in the second half to ninth.

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There was no real talk about entrances or exits where the team ticked well through its first season back in the top tier.

In 2022, there is another complexion. After a difficult start to the season and an extremely harsh end to 2021, the line-up in the weeks after the turn of the year provides an immediate opportunity to react.

At the time of writing, Burnley are five points behind Leeds in 18th place. Their visit to Elland Road is a great opportunity for Marcelo Bielsa’s side to take.

Putting three more points directly between himself and one of their bottom-five rivals would be huge for United in easing the pressure that has built up across the injury-ridden defeats of December.

We are no longer in the first 10 games of the season, where a bad start can be rejected as a blip. United are almost halfway through the competition and they have three wins on the board.

That return can not continue, and if you do not look at Burnley’s visit to Elland Road as three points, what games are you looking at then?

If the FA Cup has ever looked like a major inconvenience in United’s recent history, then next weekend in a Premier League match, away, with poor public transport options, against a European challenger, they face exactly one week later the same Sunday castle.

Leeds United return to London Stadium twice next month

The league trip to West Ham United will bring the same problems as the four top-four battles before Christmas, but the Chelsea trip may be the encouragement the team needs.

Then there’s Newcastle by Elland Road. Like Burnley, a match Leeds simply has to win to keep the distance to the bottom three. Magpies’ transfer activity in the three weeks before kick-off will be exciting.

The postponements with Liverpool and Aston Villa also need new homes, and January provides some openings, though the former’s battered schedule will dictate much.

Off the field, January can also hold the keys to the rest of the season. The injuries must give way and we must see the club’s most important bodies return to the forefront over the next few weeks.

Bielsa is facing the media for a long-awaited briefing on Friday morning. The hopes are high for Daniel James, Patrick Bamford and Pascal Struijk.

Diego Llorente and Junior Firpo are available again. Rodrigo and Jamie Shackleton are unknown, while Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips are the ones who may not be back until February.

The speed of these returns next month is crucial to ensure that more games do not beg with worn-out teams cut in ribbons.

And then there are transfers. One month shootout for each club to get their house ready for the long haul for May.

As always, United are open to opportunities and able to move quickly if their shortlisted names become available for the right price, but the persistent problem with that window remains.

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Players in form and demand are only available at exorbitant prices, and those available at attractive prices are rusty and lack combat sharpness.

There is also Bielsa’s regime. There is still some sense in acquiring players who will not be considered ready for action until mid-March.

While there is no basis for the recent stories linking Raphinha with Bayern Munich, it is a story that reminds everyone of the external dangers of January.

Other clubs will like Leeds players and Victor Orta can not stop offers, he can only reject them and make it clear that their stars are not for sale.

The dangers of the winter market apply not only to Leeds, but to most of the major players in Europe. This is not a month that traditionally suits everyone to do big business.

It would counteract the tendency of one of the continent’s elite clubs to snatch after Raphinha, Illan Meslier or an injured Phillips, but those are threats that the club will have to resist until February arrives.


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