Despite a recent slip, and subsequent worries of a repeat of last season, Marcelo Bielsa’s side remain in the automatic promotion places, where they’ve been for the majority of the season to date. How would you summarise the campaign as we enter the final months?
The campaign had been incredibly positive…until half time of the Cardiff game on 14 December. At that point Leeds were going 13 points clear of third place, then collapsed in the second half to draw 3-3. Since then they have won just two of their nine league games, which has understandably caused many supporters to become nervous. They are still one of the best teams in the division without doubt, the question now is can they handle the pressure of the chasing pack and return to the performances fans became accustomed to earlier in the season?
It’s important to note West Brom are in the midst of a similar rocky patch, too, so with perhaps less injuries than they had to contend with last season, are Leeds in a better position to challenge for the title?
I think challenging for the title is irrelevant to most supporters, it is simply about promotion. Avoiding the play-offs is key as the pressure on the club in those situations is incredibly intense, as proven by previous failed attempts to go up at Wembley and the Millennium Stadium. I believe they are in a better position to go up this season - despite recent suggestions - as the lesson of last season will have been learned by many of those on the pitch and, with us yet to see the January additions in the side, there is still an unknown element which could have a huge impact.
Patrick Bamford has come under intense scrutiny recently, with some less-than-favourable stats being circulated on social media after the surprise defeat to Wigan recently. The club brought in Jean-Kevin Augustin from RB Leipzig in January, but do you think Marcelo Bielsa is right to have kept faith with him so far?
Bamford is the clubs leading scorer, yes, he has missed many opportunities to add to his tally, but he still has 12 goals so far this season. Also, Marcelo Bielsa hasn’t had an alternative. JKA, or ‘Big Kev’ as he has been dubbed, only arrived on the Monday of deadline week, with his predecessor Eddie Nketiah leaving at the very start of the transfer window. It left Bamford as the only outright striker so of course he stayed in the side. JKA could, and in many people’s opinions should, have been involved from the bench against Wigan but Bielsa has a habit of taking his time to introduce new players to the side. Maybe tonight is the night he has an impact!
Former Brentford youth player Ian Carlo Poveda joined the club from Manchester City last month and had the No 7 shirt bestowed upon him. He’d turns 20 this weekend but is yet to make his senior league debut, so do you feel he’s still regarded as a prospect for the future?
I think the long-term contract, until the summer of 2024, suggests the club see him as a long-term project, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have an instant impact. Stuart Dallas - a former Bee, of course - said he had been incredibly impressed with the way Poveda has quickly integrated into the squad and the style of play expected from him. I think he can have a role between now and May, his issues is getting the already impressive wingers out of the starting 11!
How is Bielsa likely to set up his side for their final visit to Griffin Park?
The same way he sets up his side for every other game. If there is one thing you can’t fault Bielsa for it is knowing what he wants from his team. The only change he sometimes makes is dropping to a back three if his side comes up against a duo of strikers in the opposition line up. Bielsa does Bielsa and it is up to other teams to try and cope with them. Some do, some don’t.
Leeds fans won’t have fond memories of their last trip to west London, when Brentford ran out 2-0 winners to, effectively, end their hopes of automatic promotion last April. What’s your score prediction for this one?
The Easter weekend last season was one to forget, however I don’t think that plays a role this evening. This is two sides chasing the Premier League so both will be going for the win, which could suit Leeds as many teams sit behind the ball and frustrate them. I don’t see Brentford doing that. However I’ll dodge the score prediction and simply say Leeds need to head back up the M1 with something just to keep Brentford at arm’s length.
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