When it was confirmed that Leeds United would be facing Derby County in the semi-finals of the play-offs last week, fans of both sides must have been excited by the news given the recent history between the clubs.
Having secured an impressive 4-1 victory over the Rams last August, the Whites entered January’s clash at Elland Road as firm favourites over their opponents yet the build-up to the fixture was dominated by matters off-the-field.
After Frank Lampard accused Marcelo Bielsa of sending one of the club’s employees to spy on Derby’s training exercises, the Argentine admitted his guilt before going on to reveal that he had done the exact same thing in preparation for games against all of Leeds’ Championship opponents this season (via Sky Sports).
Although the Whites were subsequently fined £200,000 by the Football Association for their actions (via BBC Sport), it is clear that the Rams have not forgotten these actions and therefore will be keen on getting their revenge in the play-offs.
In what is sure to be a hot-tempered two-legged clash, Leeds will have to keep their heads if they are to keep their dreams of reaching the Premier League alive.
Whereas the influence that Pablo Hernandez has on proceedings will surely help decide his side’s fate against Derby, it could be argued that Kalvin Phillips holds the key to play-off glory.
Despite not being able to boast anywhere near the levels of goal contributions in comparison to his Spanish team-mate, the £6.3m-rated ace (via Transfermarkt) has been utterly sublime in his defensive midfield role this season and will be needed to cut off the Rams’ supply line at Pride Park on Saturday.
With both Tom Lawrence and Harry Wilson expected to carry a real threat on the wings for their opponents, Leeds will need Phillips to cover his full-backs when necessary whilst also keeping it tight in the middle of the pitch.
If the 23-year-old is successful in helping his side keep Derby at bay, the Whites could be preparing for their first trip to Wembley Stadium since their ill-fated clash with Doncaster Rovers in 2008.
What do you think Leeds fans? How important is Phillips to your success in the play-offs? Are you confident that your side can beat Derby in the semi-finals? Let us know below.
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