After Norwich City and Sheffield United booked their automatic return to the Premier League it came at the expense of Leeds United who for the majority of the season had occupied one of the top two spaces. They have been the standout side but Marcelo Bielsa’s men have dropped vital points recently against Brentford and Wigan. The question is will they discover their form when it matters most?
Since their return to the Championship they have failed to finish inside any of the promotion places with 7th being their best finish in 2016/17. It is a strange to think that Leeds, with all their history, have not been in the top flight since 2004. They are a club great stature and this season we have seen them play like they deserve to be in the top flight once again.
Bielsa will know that he has to beat Ipswich this weekend to finish in 3rd place with West Brom looking to pip them to have possibly the more favourable play off semi-final game. However, there will be no easy game in the treacherous play offs. With West Brom and Aston Villa already confirmed it could be Frank Lampard’s Derby County or Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough that could occupy that final place. Lampard and Bielsa have history already this season after “spygate” and Pulis knows how to get a side promoted. It should be an intriguing run in!
But Leeds need to be at the top of their game to get anything and need to avoid complacency. The favourite can often be humbled in the play offs especially in the Championship. Take for example Cardiff in 2010, Derby in 2014, Reading in 2017 and Aston Villa in 2018 all these sides headed into the final and were expected to win but fell short at the last hurdle. However, Leeds need to get to the final first and that is going to be no easy task.
After the battle of Elland Road against Aston Villa it could be suggested that the Yorkshire side are slightly rattled that they did not make automatic promotion but they have to be more composed in their future games especially in defence. After such impressive displays at the back over the course of the season they have conceded in their past three games (granted the Aston Villa goal was a strange one). But their consistency at the back, especially between Liam Cooper and Pontus Jansson, has been their most desirable attribute. They have the 3rd best defensive record in the league behind Sheffield United and Middlesbrough.
You have to favour Leeds to progress in the play offs but as stated they have to be at their very best. Bielsa will have to use his best mind games to get his way to the Premier League at the first time of asking. However, if they fail there will be question marks over the future of some players and maybe even the manager but they should certainly take the positives in what has been a thrilling season for them.