Mad Scientist Marcelo Bielsa finding Leeds promotion formula volatile
Background photo: Chris Robertshaw, CC BY 2.0
Marcelo Bielsa had Leeds United back on track for a place in the Premiership next season. The Whites returned to winning ways after suffering through Spygate earlier in the campaign. Five wins and a draw in six matches since taking their lumps against top side Norwich lifted Leeds into second and the direct promotion picture. A shock weekend defeat to promotion rivals Sheffield United spun them back to third. Bielsa is learning just how difficult the Championship can be.
With eight games remaining, Norwich City's away win to Rotherham afforded the leaders breathing room no one else has. They're five points above Leeds and only face Middlesbrough and Aston Villa from top-ten sides in the run-in. Meanwhile, Chris Basham's 72nd-minute goal thrust Sheffield United into a narrow one-point lead over Leeds. West Brom remain isolated in fourth after controversially sacking manager Darren Moore when they fell off the pace for direct promotion. Whether Jimmy Shan's two wins in as many caretaking matches continue is yet to be seen. Nine points below the Baggies you'll find a crowded chase. Boro, Villa, Preston North End, Derby County, Bristol City, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest all vie for the final two playoff berths. Tony Pulis' team lead the seven-club peloton on 58 points but Forest bring up the rear just four points behind.
Leeds' defeat to Sheffield United created several problems.
Unlikely to drop too many points, Norwich appear nigh uncatchable. Victory would have given the Whites a similar cushion over the Blades and Albion. Now they're trapped between the two in a three-way race for one position. Bielsa can remind his squad that Wilder's crew face playoff hopefuls Bristol City and Preston next and Forest down the road. They can regain their advantage with hard work.
Relegation-threatened Millwall visit Elland Road following the international break. Then it's off to St Andrew's for a date with mid-table Birmingham. Six points are imperative because Preston, Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa remain on the dance card as well. On the bright side, the Owls and Villans must come to them. The Whites must defend their home ground better going forward.
Unfortunately, the weekend loss recalled Bielsa's past clubs. The Argentine tends to fly out of the gate before running out of gas just as the end comes into sight. A strong finish is Leed's only hope for direct promotion. They've left themselves no margin for error. While the wheels must come off for the Peacocks to miss the playoffs, limping into a knockout tournament with no momentum is not the way to reach the top flight.
Elland Road denizens haven't seen Premier League football in 15 years. Bielsa represents their best chance at returning in all that time. If he can manage it, the club is primed to stay up. Money is available for new signings. The support is outstanding. Their legacy is that of a club who belong in the top tier. If the Mad Scientist can perfect the formula and see out the season, his name will be written among the legends who have served the club well. If he falters, the heartbreak will be immense.