After going bitterly close to Premier League promotion last year, Leeds United and their undeniable army of global fans could be in for a party that’s been 16 years in the making — that’s if their statistics so far in the 2019-20 Championship season are anything to go by.
Leeds have all the markings of a team that is set for promotion, and – while predicting the fortunes of a club who has one of the most bizarre storylines in English football over the course of the last 15 years is fraught with danger – the numbers really do stack up.
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Under Argentinian coach Marco Bielsa, United are ranked first in the Championship for possession (60.3%), shots per game (16.5), and they’re ranked second for pass accuracy at 80.4%, which is just shy of third-placed Fulham who lead the way at 84%.
While Patrick Bamford, Leeds’ polarising striker, has caused frustration this season for fans, he’s found the net on 12 occasions, taking an average 3.5 shots per game which has him ranked fifth in the league. There have been various calls for him to be demoted to starting games on the bench given his yo-yo form line in the new year, but he’s been important to Bielsa’s structure. He gets to the right spots, he creates opportunities, and he’s utilised as an outlet – he’s the type of player whose efforts in one game aren’t rewarded until two or three games later.
Still, Leeds haven’t had to rely on the No. 9 shirt in order to rank second overall in the Championship for total goals. Along with Bamford, the likes of Jack Harrison (5), Pablo Hernandez (4), Gjanni Alioski (4), and Mateusz Klich (3) have all contributed to the total of 48 goals to date this season.
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If the quintet isn’t scoring, then they’re playing the ball into dangerous areas for others to feast on. Harrison (6 assists), Hernandez (4), Luke Ayling (3), Klich (2), and Ben White (2) have created direct assists, and that’s not on top of the countless other opportunities they’ve played into the six-yard box that have gone begging too.
Defensively, Leeds stack up. Captain Liam Cooper has won an average 4.5 aerials per game making him one of the best in the Championship in this statistic. Ben White (2.9), Ayling (2.3), Kalvin Phillips (2), and Gaetano Berardi (1.9) feature prominently – for the most part, this has been a watertight defence.
The Whites started the new season in impeccable fashion, recording an unbeaten streak of 11 games prior to Christmas before things went pear shaped – as they often do at for those that call Elland Road home – seeing an 11-point buffer reduced to nothing but a goal differential in their favour after Leeds managed to take only nine points from the 30 on offer during a run of 10 games to begin the new year.
Still, in that period, Bielsa’s men did not drop out of the automatic promotion zone and, to this date, they haven’t moved outside of the top two.
An outstanding win against Bristol City was the most clinical 1-0 game you’ll see at Championship level; perhaps the only disappointment was that this should have been a 4-0 scoreline if not for several outstanding saves from City’s keeper Daniel Bentley. It was the type of controlled football that saw Leeds dominate in the front half of the season and it has fans believing their best football is back after a tremulous period.
In a gruelling season where 46 games are played – and that’s not factoring in the extra Cup games throughout that period – supporters and pundits alike have queried whether the extensive sessions Bielsa continues to demand on a weekly basis during the season proper – even with 13 games remaining in the season – are necessary. It’s this time of year where teams feel the pinch and either rally or fall apart.
The fitness regime under Bielsa since his arrival prior to the 2018-19 season has long been spoken about as a key to this side’s promotion hopes. There’s fit, and then there’s Bielsa fit. Endurance running at Thorp Arch tests the players mentally and physically in the preseason and it’s coupled with back-to-back sessions, long days – and let’s not forget the language barrier -, have led to this is a galvanised group who have bought into one of the most unique environment’s the Championship has seen and the method in the madness of the Argentinian manager is paying off.
In the last two games against hopefuls Brentford and Bristol, the Whites have won key performance indicators such as duels, forced opposition turnover, and reducing opposition time on the ball all while not allowing their opponents to break into the penalty area. These statistics were a common theme prior to Christmas and led Championship commentators to believe Leeds had the most reliable defence in the league.
At the other end of the pitch, the forward press Leeds have been so renowned for this season has been instrumental in their last two games. Only eight successful entries have been made into the Leeds’ penalty area for just one goal conceded. Brentford sits only behind Leeds for chances created (364) per game, equating to 11 per match. In their match, Leeds restricted the Bees to just three. Against the Robins, Bristol goalkeeper Daniel Bentley had 54 touches, the second most for his side in the match. Remarkable.
This is a team who suffocate the opposition into submission. The problem for Leeds isn’t winning possession nor controlling it, it’s finishing off their hard work with the ball firmly planted in the back of the net.
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With 13 games to come, they play just one team inside the top seven in the run home, facing Fulham at Elland Road, who they currently sit three points clear of in second place.
Fulham meanwhile must play every top seven team in the final 13 games, the hardest fixture of all promotion hopefuls. They’re followed by Preston (5), West Brom (4), Bristol (4), Brentford (3), and Nottingham Forest (3) who’ll all inevitably take points off each other making for a thrilling finish to the most even and competitive seasons of Championship football in recent times.
The time is now for Leeds. If they don’t make it back to the Premier League this year, they never will.
Reading (H), Middlesbrough (A), Hull City (A), Huddersfield (H), Cardiff (A), Fulham (H), Luton (H), Blackburn (A), Stoke (H), Swansea (A), Barnsley (H), Derby (A), Charlton (H)