After a 15-year exile from the Premier League the Leeds supporters have grown used to the inevitable feeling of disappointment in the Championship, but the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa in the summer has injected a feeling of optimism into the club which is daring supporters to dream once again.
Earning promotion from the Championship to the Premier League is an incredibly difficult feat to achieve and the longer a team spends in the second-tier, the more it begins to feel as if they belong there. Leeds United’s history suggests they have the pedigree and infrastructure to hold their own in the top-flight, but their lengthy exile has forced the vast majority of supporters to feel resigned to their second-tier fate.
Bielsa’s appointment in the summer arrived as something of a plot twist which was designed to alter the status quo and, despite some pre-season doubts following a mixed summer window, the fans now have genuine belief that they are capable of finishing inside the top-six at the very least. That belief derives from the promising start which Leeds have made to the new season as they are sitting pretty at the top of the tree after 9 fixtures, albeit on goal difference.
But after enjoying an undefeated start in the league Leeds’ fairytale start came to an end last weekend as Birmingham City clinched a 2-1 win at Elland Road. It was rather fitting that Gary Monk was the man to finally break Bielsa’s spell on the division after he personally failed to achieve promotion during his time as Leeds manager.
Leeds fans have no reason to be too concerned by the result; bumps in the road are inevitable and you can’t win them all – as they say. The true test for the mentality of Bielsa’s side lies within the fixtures which arrive immediately after a defeat.
Top clubs very rarely lose two on the bounce: Championship winners Wolverhampton Wanderers didn’t lose back-to-back games in the league in the entirety of the 2017/18 campaign, although, conversely, Cardiff City did lose four consecutive games between 23rd December 2017 and January 1st 2018 and still managed to clinch automatic promotion.
By that logic Leeds could easily lose against Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow evening and remain strong contenders for automatic promotion, but it’s the timing of the defeats which shape the league table. Momentum is such a decisive factor in football and whilst Leeds are in fine form it’s important that they create breathing space at the top end of the division and maintain the mentality of a promotion-chasing side.
Although the Owls have not started the season in flying form themselves, there is no doubt that they should be regarded as one of Leeds’ promotion rivals this season. Add in the impetus of a Yorkshire derby and it’s clear that the stakes are immensely high for Bielsa in his biggest challenge of the season so far.
If Leeds come away from Hillsborough with a positive performance and at least a draw to show for their efforts then they will have to be regarded as genuine contenders for promotion, whereas a defeat will provoke serious questions about their mental capability to react to a negative result.
It’s Bielsa’s biggest test of the season and one which could make or break Leeds’ promotion bid but, on the evidence of how the Whites have responded to their multitude of injury problems, this is is a fixture which you’d expect them to draw at the very least.
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