Fifteen years after they fell out of the Premier League – and following a spell in which they dropped further than that, with the club’s entire future at risk more than once – Leeds United are ninety minutes from a play-off final that could see them back into the top flight. A win at Derby three days ago has left them with a goal advantage and a game in front of their own fans, both good reasons to be optimistic. Leeds supporters know better than anyone in football that nothing is straightforward, but they have reason to hope.
Derby, managed by former England legend Frank Lampard, will present a challenge for the hosts here. Having ended the season much better than they began it, the Rams will be hoping that they can end an exile from the top division that has itself endured for more than a decade. Still smarting from a first leg in which they saw a penalty awarded and then overturned, and in which they felt Leeds’ Mateusz Klich could have been sent off, Derby will have more than enough motivation for this game.
Leeds United vs Derby County Prediction: Leeds United 2-1 Derby County
If Leeds could have maintained their early-season form through the final months of the Championship season, they’d already be looking forward to next season in the Premier League. The frustration of missing out on an automatic promotion spot often bleeds into a disappointing play-off performance for the side that finishes third, but Marcelo Bielsa was able to lift his side for Saturday’s game and now knows that they need merely repeat the dose to secure a place in the final. A solid attacking side, Leeds should have enough to secure a win on the night and on aggregate.
Our recommended tip: Leeds win and BTTS
This is the fourth meeting between these sides in the 2018-19 season, and currently Leeds have three wins from three in the head-to-head, which offers them a significant mental advantage for the most important match in the series. Derby come to Elland Road knowing they have to score, which is music to the ears of a counter-attacking coach like Bielsa. The Rams certainly don’t lack attacking ability, and across the 90 minutes it’s a realistic prospect that they’ll get at least one goal; however, it seems likely that Leeds will have enough to stay a step ahead at all times.
It’s often said that the most important meeting between two sides is the most recent one, and while there is a grain of truth in that, the match which sticks in the mind is the Elland Road encounter in January. That outing was shrouded in controversy after Derby complained that a member of Leeds’ coaching staff had spied on their training sessions in the week leading up to the game. Bielsa confessed to the spying – which was not technically an offence under EFL rules – and paid a £200,000 fine levied against Leeds out of his own funds. His side won the match 2-0, with no sign that there would have been a different outcome without the Spygate issue.
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Players to watch: Patrick Bamford & Mason Mount
The end of the season has been a chequered spell for former Middlebrough trainee Bamford. A shaky spell of form saw him go four games without a goal and miss several chances as his side lost a crucial game to Birmingham in April. The striker has also just completed a suspension for deceiving a match official, when he dived to get an opponent sent off in the club’s penultimate league game against Aston Villa. There is now every reason, in the absence of Kemar Roofe, for Bamford to want to put the bad headlines behind him by shooting Leeds into the final.
Mount, who is at Derby on loan from Chelsea, is widely viewed as a future England regular. He will be as frustrated as anyone with his side’s loss at Pride Park on Saturday, when a combative Leeds midfield prevented him performing his playmaker’s role to full effect. Tonight may be his last chance to make a difference for the Rams before he returns to his parent club, and he’ll be determined to cast aside the disappointment of last weekend by putting in the kind of performance of which he is indisputably capable.