LEEDS begin their title parade at rivals Derby and EFL expert Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) previews the action.
Derby vs Leeds | Sunday 19th July 2020, 14:00 | Sky Sports
It started with Brian Clough taking exception to Don Revie’s perceived unsporting approach.
It continued when Norman Hunter accused Francis Lee of diving, leading to a brawl at the Baseball Ground.
It was fuelled further by Marcelo Bielsa authorizing a spy to be sent to the opposing team’s training ground, much to the displeasure of Frank Lampard.
All three sagas have fed a unique rivalry between Derby County and Leeds United, which does not exist for geographical reasons – Pride Park and Elland Road, after all, are 76 miles apart.
The two former champions of England have both gone through the whole of the 2010s without playing in the top flight, but Leeds rubber-stamped their Premier League return this weekend.
The Whites’ promotion was confirmed on Friday evening, due to West Brom’s loss at Huddersfield, before defeat for Brentford at Stoke on Saturday allowed them to celebrate their first title in 28 years.
It has already been a dream weekend for Leeds without them even playing – but it would be made perfect with victory at Derby, who are consigned to a 13th consecutive season in the second tier.
Derby eyes on next season
The Rams’ play-off hopes are mathematically over due to Cardiff’s 3-1 victory at Middlesbrough on Saturday. Sixth spot had looked within their grasp after the restart, with the team starting their summer fixtures with three straight wins – and a 1-0 win at Preston North End earlier this month put them just one point off Cardiff.
Since then, though, Phillip Cocu’s side failed to assuage doubts over their performances against the best in the division, with a fortuitous 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest followed by deserved defeats to West Brom, Brentford and Cardiff.
In fairness, they have played some of those games without key performers like Martyn Waghorn, Tom Lawrence and Louie Sibley – all three are expected to be available here.
Given Derby’s dislike for Leeds, it’s plausible that the guard of honour they may decide to offer them will serve as motivational fuel.
Leeds march on together
It seems ironic that the victory that gave Leeds the right to cap their work over the last two years with promotion was among the worst of Marcelo Bielsa’s reign.
The West Yorkshire outfit accrued a 1-0 victory over Barnsley, mustering just six shots all afternoon – their seasonal average is 16.2 – and two on target – of which they manage a mean of 5.3 per game.
They finished the game with five centre-backs on the pitch, if we include Luke Ayling: Ben White started in defensive midfield to replace Kalvin Phillips with Gaetano Berardi coming into a back-three next to Ayling and Liam Cooper.
Defender Pascal Struijk then replaced winger Jack Harrison which, considering how rooted to a front-foot philosophy we know Marcelo Bielsa to be, highlights how concerned ‘El Loco’ was.
In fairness to Leeds, they still did a decent job of blocking out the advanced central areas and limited their opponents to just two shots on target as well, so there was at least an element of efficiency about a display which would have been concerning had it happened before Christmas, but meant little at the business end.
The tactics board
Leeds rightly celebrated their achievements on Friday and Saturday – this may have affected preparation.
It’s possible we might see some rotation from Marcelo Bielsa, with Barry Douglas, Ian Carlo Poveda-Ocampo, Ezgjan Alioski, Pascal Struijk and Jamie Shackleton all standing a reasonable chance of coming into the XI – youngsters such as Oliver Casey, Alfie McCalmont and Jordan Stevens could feature too.
Any line-up Bielsa names could be lacking something in the holding midfield position; White and Struijk are centre-backs by trade, Shackleton sees himself as a number eight, Mateusz Klich is best when given the freedom to make bold runs deep into the opposing half while Alfie McCalmont did not make the last match-day squad.
Without Phillips’ tenacity, Leeds could struggle to negate the fluent, one-touch play that Derby love to initiate in advanced, central areas, with numerous players potentially drifting into the number 10 position at different times – and they have more quality to exploit any drop off from the Whites than we saw from Barnsley.
Cocu could also rotate with attacking right-back Jayden Bogle, utility man George Evans, left-back Scott Malone, holding midfielder Graeme Shinnie and versatile forward Martyn Waghorn potentially coming in – teenagers Lee Buchanan and Morgan Whittaker may play a part too.
A start for Malone could be a plus for the Rams; the former Fulham left-back has a fantastic engine and would offer more pace and width than stalwart Craig Forsyth.
The betting angle
Just two of the last seven Championship games involving a pre-crowned title-winner have seen that team be victorious – both were won in 2014 by Leicester, who beat lowly Huddersfield before relegating Doncaster through a highly questionable penalty decision.
The various champions have accrued a combined nine points in those seven matches, scoring just six goals – so the evidence is that sides who have blown away many before them while on a mission turn into essentially bottom half fodder once that mission is complete.
This could be the case for Leeds, who have worked at such a high-intensity under Bielsa over the last two seasons and it could be difficult for them to replicate that with all their goals met.
Derby are building an exciting, young squad and could get a victory to inspire further optimism for their 2020-21 campaign – Leeds are simply glad that any summer defeat to the Rams will not be anywhere near as costly as the one they suffered last year.
Derby vs Leeds – Derby to win to nil (4/1 Sportingbet)