Leeds United putting automatic promotion at risk with inconsistent form
Background image: John Seb Barber, CC BY-SA 2.0
That Marcelo Bielsa has stayed at Leeds until the end of the season is commendable given his antecedents. Of course, it has not been without some drama. A spying incident on Frank Lampard's Derby County made the headlines back in January, thereby putting both Bielsa and Leeds under intense scrutiny from several quarters. The negative publicity attracted by the incident has definitely not helped the club in the quest for automatic promotion to the English top flight.
Unfortunately, the incident came at a time the team was experiencing a dip in form. So that made matters worse. The negative impact of the incident on the team was glaring in the club's very next match after the news broke out. Against Stoke City, in a match the Whites were expected to pick up a routine win against the struggling Potters, the team lost 2-1. That gave Norwich City, who then occupied second place, the chance to close the gap at the top to just a point after picking up all three points in their own game at home against Birmingham.
From then on, a Leeds side that was flying at the top of the table has struggled to hold on to an automatic promotion spot. Norwich City has now taken over at the summit and has promotion to the Premier League all-but secured with three games left to play. Fortunately for Leeds, as with Tottenham in the Premier League, most of the other teams in the Championship have been inconsistent, thereby failing to challenge for one of the top two places. In the case of Tottenham, Mauricio Pochettino's team remains in the top four despite losing five of the last eight league matches and winning only two...
Yes, back to the Championship...
Sheffield United has been the exception. The Blades have taken full advantage of their opportunities including beating Bielsa's men at Elland Road to move into the second and final automatic promotion spot. Although that's just on goal difference, it will mean nothing if they can't win their three remaining games in the season. And they can, going by recent results involving the two sides. While Sheffield has lost just once in the last 15 games in the Championship, Leeds has lost twice in the last four and three times in the last six.
That performance has now put Bielsa's otherwise good work all season at risk. Failure to gain promotion to the Premier League could be catastrophic for Leeds. To begin with, it's unlikely the maverick Argentine manager will have the patience to stick around and fight it out for another year to secure promotion to the Premier League. Of course, even failure to gain automatic promotion would not rule out making it through as the play=offs present another opportunity. Just that it becomes much more difficult to go through that route as Aston Villa found out last term.
And then there's certainly no guarantee things will go nearly as well as they have gone this season at Elland Road. Other teams seeking the same goal, like Swansea, Stoke, etc will fortify their squads to give a stronger push for promotion. Some of those who may not make it through the play-offs will do the same. Add the relegated Premier League contingent who will want to make an instant return to the top flight and everything becomes complicated. The competition will only increase. What that means is Leeds’ 15-year absence from the English top flight could extend even further.