Leeds' Raphinha nominated for GIVEMESPORT Fans' Player of the Month award

Leeds winger Raphinha

When Leeds finally earned promotion back to the Premier League last year, there was inevitable uncertainty about how the team would fare after 16 years outside the top-flight.

Under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa, the side had gone from a mid-table Championship club to returning to the Premier League in the space of two years.

Playing a specific brand of football centred around aggressive pressing and showing bravery on the ball, the biggest doubts were over whether Leeds' style would work against the best clubs in the country, and whether they'd be able to bring in top-flight quality personnel that could adapt to it quickly.

Heading into the final months of their first campaign back in the Premier League, we have our answers. Using the same players that flourished in the Championship, such as Kalvin Phillips, Patrick Bamford and Luke Ayling, Leeds have held their own this season.

But that core of Leeds players has been helped massively by the influence of a real masterstroke of a summer signing in Brazilian winger Raphinha. 

Having arrived last October, the 24-year-old has dazzled in recent weeks, enjoying a particularly stunning February. He scored twice, grabbed an assist and registered 20 key passes across the course of the month.

Raphinha stats February

Bielsa has improved the Leeds players he inherited immeasurably since taking over in 2018, but Raphinha's development is a shining example of how he is also capable of bringing in fresh faces to further elevate the quality of the squad. 

'Scaling up' the Leeds project could have been difficult given Bielsa's idiosyncratic style. Few managers will use formations like 3-3-3-1 or employ such infamously intense training methods.

In short, there's a logical doubt over whether Bielsa can apply his approach to elite footballers who are already well-established. It seems better suited to the kind of group he inherited at Leeds - seemingly underappreciated and therefore eager to improve. 

Double training sessions and murderball seem a lot harder to sell to a footballer who has already 'made it' without pushing themselves to such extremes and while Raphinha was by no means a household name of European football before arriving in England, he had already qualified for the Champions League with Rennes. 

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Whose career is this?

Nonetheless, the 24-year-old has more than bought into his manager's philosophy and shown that high-quality players can be indeed successfully integrated into Bielsa's team, which in itself raises the question of where Leeds' ceiling really is. 

If Leeds can bring in more players of the South American's natural ability while maintaining their manager's unique philosophy, the club's on-pitch potential will be enormous.

Raphinha has blossomed under Bielsa, with the Argentine coach labelling the attacker as "special", and he seems to be only getting better. 

His rapid rise has not gone unnoticed by us at GIVEMESPORT either, with Raphinha earning a nomination for February's GMS Fans' Player of the Month award. 

You can vote for him at the bottom of this article or by visiting https://fan-awards.com/

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