Leeds United’s promotion push has been one of the most eye-catching stories of the 2018/19 Championship season. Under the management of iconic gaffer Marcelo Bielsa, the Lilywhites have gone from mid-table ignominy to automatic promotion hopefuls.
To find out more about how that promotion charge is going, we checked in with Leeds fan, football writer and all-round lovely chap Jon Mackenzie. Check out his Twitter, Team Of John O’Sheas podcast (great name!), Football Media Podcast, and weekly newsletter on football writing.
(They’re all very good).
Could you give us an overview of how the season’s gone so far?
What are the words in the song? ‘And we’ve had our ups and downs’. That’s a fairly succinct summary of the season. We enjoyed something of a Bielsa bounce at the beginning of the season when it became clear that the Argentine’s methods were proving beneficial, but we hit a couple of bumps in the road. Samu Saiz was struggling with life in England and his partner wanted their child to be born in Spain so he moved over to Getafe for the remainder of the season.
Looking at Leeds’ performances since then, it’s been a case of Bielsa trying to fill the number 10 gap in his system and only now, two and a half months later, are we seeing Tyler Roberts grow into the role after a certain amount of experimentation with Mateusz Klich and Pablo Hernandez filling in too.
Other than that, there has been a fair amount of injury turnover and so there have been weak spots in the team. The defence is looking solid again now that we finally have both centre backs (Liam Cooper and Pontus Jansson) fit and healthy, and Luke Ayling and Barry Douglas are finally approaching match fitness with both having had lay-offs for a month or so recently.
We endured something of a slump after Christmas, but we’re seeing signs that we’re moving past that (some of which might be to do with the fact that Kalvin Phillips is sitting a little deeper now compared to before Christmas. It’s just a shame that this is a season where three teams are battling it out for two automatic promotion spots. Everything will likely come down to the game against Sheffield United.
Have Leeds got enough to get promotion this season, or will they miss out?
It’s hard to answer this really. On the one hand, I think we’ve done enough to merit promotion. What Bielsa has achieved with a team that finished 13th last season is nothing short of remarkable. The impact he’s had on players like Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips is hard to overstate.
That said, as I mentioned, it looks like automatic promotion is going to come down to a fixture against Sheffield United. And per fixture, there are times when Leeds can look scintillating or very average.
So we’ll see, we certainly have a good chance, but if we miss out on automatic promotion then anything can happen in the play-offs (as you well know). The Leeds fans, though, are negative about our progression through the play-offs...
Any fond memories of games against Reading in years gone by?
Off the top of my head, there was that game in the 2015/16 season when Leeds won having been 1-0 down, then 2-1 up, then 2-2 before Chris Wood scored in the last five minutes. Toumani Diagouraga scored - the man who had Toumani letters in his surname for most of us to manage, so we called him Dave. Also, Brian McDermott was manager so there’s that. But beyond that, it wasn’t really that memorable at all to be honest...
And any you’d rather forget?
As a Leeds fan, I’m good at dissociation so... no.
Who’s your main danger man?
We already know who is playing on Tuesday because Bielsa likes to announce his teams early as a middle finger to Frank Lampard. Pablo Hernandez every time - he’s our creative hub in the absense of Saiz and almost everything we do productively comes through him.
If you consider second assists (‘the assist before the assist’ on which the jury is very much out given the amount of noise they can encourage statistically), Mateusz Klich is very important too. He’s a box-to-box midfielder so his ball carrying is very important to what we do.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
Leeds have struggled when teams sit deep against them so it will all depend on how Reading come out. If you can sit deep and look to stymy Pablo Hernandez, who knows what will happen? People will point to the QPR upset recently but, in that instance, Steve McClaren’s side were fairly progressive. Paddy Bamford was a little off and that was that.
Needless to say, it’ll probably be a tight and edgy game so I’ll say 0-1 to the visitors.