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    Championship run-in preview #8: Leeds United

    Club: Leeds United

    Manager: Marcelo Bielsa

    Current table position: 1st

    How the season has gone so far: So far the season has been about as we’d expect it to be. As Leeds fans we’re getting used to a cracking start under Bielsa, followed by a period where we shit ourselves for half a dozen matches. Typically, these are in January and at Easter, and the December/January period this season saw 12 consecutive matches without a clean sheet. The season being shut down stopped us from having our regular Easter meltdown, so hopefully, we get the early-season form again instead.

    We’ve had a good few options for our key player of the year. A strong argument could be made for Kalvin Phillips and Ben White, as defensive linchpins that have allowed Leeds to hold the best defensive record in the division. Equally, Luke Ayling is in with a shout, for both his defensive efforts when filling in at centre-back and his marauding runs down the right, often resulting in a goal. Words could be put in for Harrison, Bamford, and Klich too, but for many the unquestionable best of the season so far is Stuart Dallas.

    The Cookstown Cafu screams versatility. He’s played at right-back, left-back and in the centre of midfield, having originally come to the club as a winger. Not once this season has he looked out of his depth, and purely based on the fact that he’s kept this side ticking over at times I feel like he’s the best player we’ve had.

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    In terms of disappointments, the only player that has seemed to disappoint on the pitch is Barry Douglas. When he comes on he seems to lack that extra bit of a spark, often leaving Jack(ie) Harrison to do all of the left-sided work alone. This is a problem shared by Gjanni Alioski, with the left-back position only really being tied down in the last few games by Stuart Dallas (who will undoubtedly move the moment we get injuries). Off the pitch, Kiko Casilla has to be the biggest disappointment, for obvious reasons. Many people doubt he’ll play a single match in a Leeds kit again.

    As young players go, we’ve thrived. Leif Davis has looked very promising every time he comes on, Jamie Shackleton’s powerful runs from deep are likely to cause big problems for defences, and Illan Meslier has only conceded one goal in the matches he’s played, a scuffed shot from Reiss Nelson in the 1-0 loss to Arsenal in the FA Cup. Having 5 subs could be a huge advantage to Bielsa’s side (assuming he decides to use any of them in the first place).

    Our most disappointing match was against Cardiff. Leeds, having been 3 up, managed to throw away 2 points as Cardiff stormed back into the match. It was the kind of result that had previously killed off Leeds seasons, and a similar result on Sunday could be a bad sign for things to come.

    One of the highlights of the season wasn’t even a win, but a 1-1 draw at Brentford. Kiko Casilla did his thing and we all thought the match was gone. However, a strong fightback from the Whites, including a stunning performance from Kalvin Phillips, pulled a point back against a promotion rival. That result got rid of a poor run of form and kickstarted a run of five wins without conceding.

    Key stat(s) of the season: Leeds have currently conceded the least goals so far, and are currently on a run of 5 consecutive clean sheets.

    Marcelo Bielsa has only opted to play 18 individual players 5 or more times, including substitutions (that are on the pitch for over 5 minutes).

    Own Goal is our equal 4th top scorer, alongside a right-back, left-back and loanee striker.

    Any news from the season break?: Honestly, not much. The extent of what we learned was that we have a highly effective medical team. Rob Price and the gang were prepared in advance of the lockdown, having bought home workout equipment for the players and even a coronavirus testing machine to be used at Thorpe Arch. What I’ve personally learned is that we seem to be a really well run club at the moment, which is a huge surprise after Bates/Cellino/GFH etc.

    How will you fare financially in the future?: Hopefully, we’ll do alright. Angus Kinnear has been honest about the fact Leeds have been running close to P&S limits, but with promotion feeling closer than ever our revenue may be about to go through the roof. Without that, it’s a little harder to tell, but given that we’re not doing a Reading and spending more than double our revenue on wages I think we might be okay (or at the very least not the worst affected).

    Expected lineup and tactics for the run-in:

    Let’s be honest, it’s Bielsa. I expect nothing to have changed from before lockdown, and there’s no reason for him to have changed a thing. With squad fitness statistics higher than they were before lockdown, you can expect to see the high-pressing, free-flowing, counter-attacking football that you love to see but hate to lose to.

    Lineup

    Remaining fixtures: Cardiff (A) – I think we’ll do alright. The team looks fighting fit and a Bielsa side that’s had a two month break should be absolutely unstoppable.

    Fulham (H) – This will be a match that will have huge consequences, and I think that having learned from last year the players will be incredibly focused. A point here will do, but if Fulham beat Brentford both sides will be gunning for the win.

    Luton (H) – It’s a London side, so that’s one of our many curses, but we’re on home turf. This could be a comfortable win.

    Blackburn (A) – The last fixture was a 2-1 win at Elland Road, but Blackburn haven’t been looking too bad in the months since. In what could be a close affair, I’d still back Leeds to take it, particularly in a match this close to the end of the season.

    Stoke (H) – Stoke have looked unimpressive to me so far this season, so I’m not especially worried about losing to the Potters. Sadly Nathan Jones won’t be looking incredibly angry on the sidelines, but he’ll be scream-squatting in our hearts.

    Swansea (A) – A second post-lockdown trip to Wales takes Leeds to Swansea, home of our first loss of the season so far and a lot of bitterness over Dan James. I don’t know why but I can see this being the stumbling block.

    Barnsley (H) – On the topic of stumbling blocks, Barnsley. Whilst normally I wouldn’t be too worried by a relegation threatened side of e-Leeds academy players, these are weird times. You never know, this could be the one to throw us off.

    Derby (A) – Throughout the season Derby have been a bit of a shambles, what with all the car crashes, Pride Park being told to burn down, and captain retiring shenanigans. It’s not looked good for Derby all year, and I’m feeling good about this result.

    Charlton (H) – Even if we’re already up let’s be honest, we’ll find a way to lose it.

    Best case scenario: WGUAFC.

    Worst case scenario: Literally what happened last season. Look good right to the end, drop into the playoffs and lose to a side that we’ve thoroughly beaten twice already that season. God even thinking about it depresses me.

    Prediction: I think we’ll go up. That many points is too much for even us to bottle. I don’t think we’ll win the league though, it’d be very us to lose a trophy on the last day, and losing against struggling Charlton is undoubtedly a Leeds way to go up.

    Social media/other shithousery: Not necessarily a bit of shithousing, but The Square Ball has been great in the lockdown. With content like their series on the 09/10 season on the Extra Ball, they’ve been really entertaining, alongside things like the Phil Hay Show.

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