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New Leeds United manager Sam Allardyce - can he save them from relegation?

Can Sam Allardyce save Leeds United in just four games?

Leeds United have sounded the alarm bells, sacking Javi Gracia and bringing in a new manager until the end of the season. The new manager in question is Sam Allardyce, but can he save Leeds United in just four games?

Allardyce becomes the third Leeds manager of a tumultuous season, following Jesse Marsch and Javi Gracia. Remarkably, he will have just four games to try to ensure a successful end to the season.

A Difficult Season

Leeds United has endured a difficult 2022/23 season. After 34 games, the Yorkshire club sit outside of the relegation zone only on goal difference over Nottingham Forest. That goal difference has itself taken a hammering in recent weeks with the team losing 4-1 to Arsenal, 5-1 to Crystal Palace, 6-1 to Liverpool and 4-1 to Bournemouth in an action-packed and ultimately fairly miserable month of April.

The situation has not changed much since Marsch’s sacking on 6th February. The club was also only outside of the relegation zone on goal difference at that point. With little changing, the Leeds fans and owners are rightly feeling anxious about the club’s Premier League status.

Why Allardyce?

After beginning his managerial career as player-manager at Limerick in 1991/92, Allardyce managed Preston, Blackpool and Notts County before taking over as Bolton manager in 1999. He remained with the Trotters until 2007, memorably taking the club into the Premier League and even qualifying for Europe.

Since leaving Bolton, however, Allardyce has tended to have shorter spells at Premier League clubs. His last four spells at a Premier League club have all been less than a season. Those jobs saw him manage Sunderland (for 31 games), Crystal Palace (24), Everton (26), and West Brom (26). He has become known as something of a survival firefighter, as underlined by this stat from Opta:

This explains why “Big Sam” has got the call again on this occasion with Leeds wanting to make a change to try and secure their Premier League status.

The Task Ahead

If this intervention is successful, it will be Allardyce’s most remarkable piece of fire-fighting yet as he has just four games to try and work his magic and keep Leeds above at least three other teams in one of the Premier League’s most tense and unpredictable relegation dogfights.

In contrast to when we looked at the task facing Roy Hodgson when he returned to Palace in March, the fixture list for Allardyce doesn’t exactly look like a new manager’s dream:

Leeds secured draws in their previous meetings with Newcastle and West Ham. However, they lost earlier this season to both Manchester City and Tottenham. If they repeat those results, then Leeds will only be able to collect two points from this run-in. Even that may not be guaranteed, with Man City and Newcastle in great recent form. West Ham and Tottenham are more unpredictable but can still deliver strong performances on their day.

One thing that will help Leeds is that there are a number of sides struggling to a very similar extent this season. Managers in the early 2000s would target 40 points for Premier League survival but the landscape has changed. Teams have regularly survived with totals in the 30s in more recent years. If Leeds could win one of these four games and draw another, they’d be on 34 points – not the most inspiring return for a 38-game campaign, but in this year in particular it could just about be enough.

Beyond this Season

Nobody seems to expect Allardyce to be a long-term appointment for Leeds. His appointment is seen as being purely about trying to grab Premier League safety this season.

Perhaps given the situation that’s understandable, particularly at Leeds United, a club that recently endured a long 16-year exodus in the Football League, even including dropping down to the third tier for three seasons between 2007/08 and 2009/10.

However, the appointment raises as many questions as it answers. What is the plan for next season, whether Leeds are in the Premier League or the Championship? Allardyce has won promotion before with Bolton and West Ham, but will fans take to him?

Fans who adored former manager Marcelo Bielsa are still keen for him to return. This will be especially true if the club ends up being relegated. Bielsa supporters will ask: what was the point of his sacking if the club was going to end up relegated anyway?

Those long-term questions won’t go away. Once the season ends, the Leeds board of directors will have to find the right answers. But for four games, it’s all about Sam Allardyce and whether he can save Leeds United from the drop.

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