Leeds United have been dogged in their pursuit of Premier League football in the last two seasons, and this term could well be the season that they finally clinch automatic promotion back to the top flight.
The Whites appointed Marcelo Bielsa back in the summer of 2018 and have instantly been transformed into one of the league’s top-performing and most exciting teams, only to narrowly miss out to Sheffield United last season in the hunt for the top two.
Since then, they have dusted themselves off from heartbreak and gone from strength to strength in the 2019/20 Championship campaign.
The season was poised for Leeds to get ahead of the chasing pack with demonstrably less consistency at the top end of the table throughout Leeds’ rivals, with West Brom the other side looking like standout automatic promotion candidates.
An EFL postponement has put the charge for the title on hold for, at the very least, the coming weeks but there is growing optimism around Elland Road that this could be the year they end their long wait for Premier League football to return.
Here, we tackle the Whites fight for promotion in this six point opinion…
Firstly, how has their season gone, to date?
“Leeds are going about this season in a very similar manner to the way they did the last, dominating games and picking up enough points to see them firmly as one of the favourites to go up.
“Their domination in each game from a statistical standpoint would have seen them already promoted, with possession and chance creation their main strengths.
“However, some shortcomings at both ends of the pitch have caused them problems meaning that a top-two finish isn’t completely clear-cut.
“They still look like the strongest candidates for promotion and rightly so, but the missed chances and defensive errors will still be lingering in the minds of the fans and the players, especially after last season’s capitulation.”
What has been the problem then?
“Despite being one of the most potent attacks in the league and boasting the best defensive record, there have been constant issues each week.
“The weaknesses in both six-yard boxes were outlined during their poor run after Christmas and the New Year, where chances went begging and they were conceding soft goals at the first sign of danger.
“Domination and possession mean nothing if you can’t put the ball away and stop simple efforts at goal.
“Patrick Bamford’s 13 league goals is a decent return, but could have easily been doubled by this point, regardless of the tremendous work he’s done, while Kiko Casilla’s howlers weren’t helping at the other end.”
Who have been standout performers?
“One of the hardest things to single out in this current Leeds United team is who the most important and best performer is each week, because of the collective pull in the right direction from each squad member.
“Thoughts immediately direct towards Ben White and Kalvin Phillips for the Player of the Season accolade and justifiably so, but this would take away from the stunning work of Jack Harrison and Mateusz Klich in the engine room, the leadership of Liam Cooper, Luke Ayling’s recent one-man crusade and Stuart Dallas’ Paul Madeley-esque versatility.
“It was, however, glaringly obvious how much weaker Leeds were without Phillips in the team and it’s no surprise he’s being watched closely by England chief Gareth Southgate.”
Where do they currently stand then?
“Last weekend’s 2-0 win over local rivals Huddersfield Town was the Whites’ fifth in a row along with as many clean sheets, showing just how well they were picking up form at the perfect time.
“The EFL’s postponement has come with rather unfortunate timing but gives Leeds a chance to continue their preparations for the last nine league games of the campaign.
“Coupled with West Brom’s 0-0 draw and Fulham’s 1-1 draw the same weekend, Leeds have climbed back to the summit of the Championship and opened up a healthy seven-point lead to third place.
“It only takes a 21-point swing for the Whites to clinch promotion (out of a possible 27), so with every point Leeds gain and Fulham drop, that point swing edges closer to zero and confirmation of their top-flight status.”
Can you name the club that these Leeds players started their careers at?
What do their final games have in store for them?
“Leeds would have been facing back-to-back games that would have had serious implications on the promotion race, with clashes against Cardiff City and Fulham postponed, meaning they could have feasibly opened up at least a 10-point lead to the Cottagers.
“Meanwhile, Fulham have yet to play first, second, fourth, and fifth in the table, meaning more points could easily be dropped.
“There’s a long way to go, but the Whites’ more ‘favourable’ run-in could play into their hands over their rivals.
“Tough away trips to Cardiff, Blackburn Rovers, Swansea City and Derby County await Leeds with only Fulham to play at Elland Road from the top half.”
Finally, what’s the mood like at Elland Road about the run-in?
“Recent events might have poured some cold water on the premature giddiness in West Yorkshire that this might be the year, but there is still an awful lot of optimism that ‘it’ could finally be falling into place.
“The final whistle against Huddersfield Town last week was greeted as if a massive hurdle had just been cleared, with the results coming up on the scoreboard seeing Leeds top of the tree and further clear of third.
“The realisation of the league standings and five wins has galvanised the players and fans to further cement the feeling that a siege mentality is taking great shape at Elland Road.
“There’s no arrogance that promotion is sealed, given last season’s scenes, but there is a confidence that the performances this season have a much more controlled nature to them, rather than a frantic gung-ho one.”