Derby v Leeds: Bielsa’s boys can be opposed

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CHAMPIONSHIP specialist James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) shares his thoughts on Saturday's play-off semi-final first leg showdown between Derby and Leeds.

Derby v Leeds | Saturday 11th May 2019, 17:15 | Sky Sports

We’ll get the ‘Spygate’ element of this match out the way right at the start. As much as we can deny it, that will provide an added edge to this play-off battle. Let alone a spot at Wembley to have at least a 90-minute shot at returning to the Premier League after lengthy absences, there is again no love lost in this encounter, much like the other play-off semi-final.

For those of you who subscribe to the notion that you need to be in good form going into the play-offs, then Derby are probably the team you’ll be looking to back. Whilst their fate in seventh was only confirmed on the final day, their form of the last couple of months meant they went into the last few with their destiny within their own control. The Rams have lost just once in their previous 12, winning four of their last six.

Those outside of Leeds like to make fun of the fact that the Elland Road side ultimately seem to crumble around this stage of the season. A similar viewpoint was centred around Derby as well, but these are all experiences in the past, and both sides can make history of their own over the next couple of weeks.

What we can’t deny is that Leeds have wobbled of late. Four without victory highlights that, including a final day loss to rock bottom Ipswich, who were down to 10 men when scoring their late winner. The Patrick Bamford episode in the Villa match was something they could have done without, and they ironically will have to do without him for this first leg, but he can appear in the Elland Road rematch.

Pressure on Leeds

Leeds have won just four of their last 12 away in league and cup, so Derby may sense the chance of gaining an advantage on Saturday night.

Leeds are deemed the favourites to win the entire play-off campaign, just ahead of Aston Villa. There isn’t a great surprise about that considering they ultimately ended the regular season in third, and were the only ones to sustain a lengthy automatic promotion push.

Form heading into the play-offs is never necessarily a must. At the end of the day, it is who can hold their nerve, manage the situation and get that slice of luck to take them all the way. Lampard has had a very good first season in charge, no matter what happens now. Of course, he’ll be fighting tooth and nail to get to Wembley, but it would appear there is more pressure upon Leeds.

Would Marcelo Bielsa fancy another season in this division if Leeds didn’t do up? Nothing would surprise me with him. He is one of the top coaches in world football, so we should be lucky to have at least had this season with him in the dugout. Leeds will still believe they can join Norwich and Sheff Utd in the top-flight however. Leeds did achieve a fairly comfortable double over Derby in the regular season.

Take play-offs in isolation

One more, form isn’t everything. These play-off games have to be taken in isolation. It is hard to compare them to anything else. It is more like cup football than anything, and Derby did have a good run in the cups this year, which could be a minor advantage in their camp.

Derby’s record against the top sides in the Championship is mixed. Against the five teams above them, they W4-D1-L5. Leeds beat Norwich and Sheff Utd away, but lost both at home. Against the other three play-off sides, Leeds have a recorded of W4-D1-L1. The players will be wary of the question marks upon them from the outside, and possibly Bielsa. If someone can get them playing again, then the Argentinian is the man.

Something I haven’t particularly liked doing in the Championship this season is back unders on the goal count. Certainly in relation to the standard 2.50 line. Only five teams in the league saw a goals to game average of 2.50 or below. The play-offs though are often associated with being close affairs.

However, for all that this could end 0-0, 4-4 couldn’t totally be ruled out either! Leeds have only failed to score 13% of the time this season, and Derby 26%, so both know where the back of the net is. BTTS has paid out in 57% of Derby home matches, and also the same amount of Leeds away contests. There is a different angle I’m looking towards for this meeting at Pride Park.

The betting angle

I do think the value here is finding a way to get Derby onside. Leeds are not only favourites to progress over two legs, but they’re the favourites to win the away leg on Saturday night. Recent form has to leave a few question marks in that regard, even though they could easily turn it on again.

Derby have quite a young side, so it remains to be seen how they can handle the pressure of such an occasion. However, we’ve touched upon their cup runs, plus the West Brom game saw them drop outside of a play-off spot for a stage, but they came through that in the end.

Lampard was not happy at all with the (sorry) ‘Spygate’ incident earlier in the season, and there’s every chance that’ll serve as some part of his motivation in the days leading up to this towards his players, even though he has suggested otherwise. If he isn’t thinking it, then the players will be, and of course the fans most definitely will.

Leeds won’t be high on confidence and they could need the Elland Road crowd to play their part in the second leg. I fancy Derby to at least avoid defeat given they’re in a decent place right now, and I think more pressure is on Leeds.

Derby Double Chance and Over 1 Goal is an attractive 13/10 (Bet365) punt using the Bet Builder.

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Derby v Leeds – Derby Double Chance and Over 1 Goal (13/10 Bet365)

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