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Premier League: Are Leeds suffering from second-season syndrome?

Leeds United took the Premier League by storm on their return to the top flight last season, securing a top-half finish while playing an entertaining brand of football that earned plaudits from up and down country.

However, this season has not started so well for Marcelo Bielsa's side, as they have only won one of their opening nine league matches to sit just a place above the bottom three and facing a battle to avoid being relegated back to the Championship come the end of the campaign.

Talk of second-season syndrome has now started to circulate around Elland Road, as there have been many examples in the past of teams sinking like a stone after enjoying impressive first years back in the Premier League - Sheffield United last term anyone?

Leeds have not started the season as poorly as the Blades did 12 months ago and nine games remains a relatively small sample size to judge a team's fortunes, but if results don't start improving soon, then the Whites could find themselves deep in a relegation battle.

Bielsa ball no longer working

Let's face it, Bielsa has revitalised Leeds since taking over at the club in 2018, turning them from a stagnating Championship outfit into Premier League entertainers in little over two years.

The 66-year-old's reputation precedes him, and he has certainly lived up to the billing at Elland Road, but he has never previously stayed at a club for this long, and the physical demands he places on his players could finally be taking its toll.

Those demands may also be contributing to a growing number of injuries at Leeds this season, with Patrick Bamford, Luke Ayling and Robin Koch all currently on the treatment table, while Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha have also suffered with fitness issues over recent weeks.

This may just be a coincidence, or it may be a case of Bielsa's high-intensity approach starting to have an adverse effect on what is a relatively small squad.

Tough set of fixtures to start the season

Teams should of course not be judged after just nine games of the season - although many managers are sacked after less time - and Leeds' relative struggles at the start of the campaign could just be put down to a tough set of fixtures.

The Whites faced four of last season's top 10 in their opening six matches of the campaign, losing to Manchester United, Liverpool and West Ham, while taking a credible point against Everton.

The other two games in that run were against sides struggling at the wrong end of the table in Burnley and Newcastle, but both were away from home and in normal circumstances the draws they picked up would be considered decent results.

That accounts for the opening six games of the season and Leeds then won their seventh at home to Watford, but one point from their proceeding two against Southampton and Wolves means the Whites have now made their worst start to a top-flight campaign since 1981 - taking seven points from their opening nine games.

That has left hopes of replicating last season's ninth-place finish hanging by a thread, with Leeds facing an uphill battle if they are to end the campaign in the top-half of the standings.

Norwich fixture could prove decisive

Given Leeds' relative struggles, greater significance has certainly now been placed on Sunday's trip to bottom of the table Norwich, a match the Whites will be expected to win given the host's winless start to the campaign.

Norwich have collected just two points and scored two goals in their nine Premier League matches to date this season - while they are without a win in their last 19 top-flight fixtures, culminating in last weekend's 7-0 thrashing at Chelsea.

The Canaries' struggles should certainly put Leeds' own issues into perspective, but if Bielsa's side were to lose or even draw Sunday's fixture, then it would add to the growing belief they are in for a season of struggle.

Leeds fans will be hopeful they can overcome Norwich, as they have won on two of their last three visits to Carrow Road, most recently claiming a resounding 3-0 success in 2018 when both teams were in the Championship.

A similarly emphatic result on Sunday could potentially kickstart Leeds' season, with the Whites priced at 1/1 to claim the three points, while a Norwich win is available at 13/5 and the draw is on offer at 5/2.

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