Nine games to end a 16-year exile from the Premier League. Leeds have botched promotion on several occasions in recent seasons, but never have they been such overwhelming favourites to clinch it automatically.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men currently enjoy a seven-point buffer over third-placed Fulham, although that lead may be cut to four by the time Leeds kick off in Cardiff. Despite being overwhelming promotion favourites, nothing is certain for Leeds. Their fans have been here too many times before and, while the finish line is in sight, it is still tantalisingly out of reach.
With Fulham set to travel to Elland Road next week, failure to beat Cardiff on Sunday will make Leeds fans very nervous and memories of last season’s play-off heartbreak will undoubtedly come flooding back.
What is now a seven-point lead could be cut to less than three in just two foul swoops and then Leeds will find themselves in a precarious position for the remaining seven games of the season.
They simply need to hit the ground running.
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The COVID-19 pandemic halted the Championship season – and Leeds’ campaign – at a time when no other Championship club seemed capable of halting the Whites’ march to Premier League glory.
They had just won five games on the bounce without conceding a goal and their promotion seemed inevitable. Their form is far less certain now and they face a Cardiff side who are still very much in play-off contention.
Neil Harris’ side sit just two points behind sixth-placed Preston and they face their play-off rivals in the following game. Victory over Leeds on Sunday coupled with a win over Preston the following week would almost certainly guarantee Cardiff a place in the top-six with seven games remaining.
With absolutely no form to gauge, it will be the side who adapts quickest to the strange new surroundings of an empty stadium that gains the upper hand. Leeds are also reportedly set to be without Pablo Hernandez and they could feel his loss, so we believe a stalemate might just be the safest bet.
The Whites, as alluded to earlier, do not concede a lot of goals. They boast the best defensive record in the league and will need that watertight defence if they are going to stay the course in the automatic promotion places.
Cardiff haven’t exactly struggled for goals this season and boast one of the better goalscoring records in the league, but it would be surprising if either team were at their fluid best in the first game back.
This game probably won’t echo the 3-3 thriller played out in the reverse fixture just before Christmas.
In terms of where any potential goals are going to come from, neither side boasts any hugely prolific strikers threatening the summit of the Championship top scorer charts.
Callum Paterson and Lee Tomlin, with seven goals each, are Cardiff’s joint-top scorer, while Patrick Bamford is the pick of the bunch for Leeds with a relatively paltry 13 goals given the sheer amount of chances he gets.
Leeds are the third-highest scorers in the division with 56 goals to their name, while Cardiff are just four goals behind them on 52, meaning that players from all areas have been chipping in with goals for both sides.
It makes predicting any potential goalscorers an unenviable task, but Bamford is by far the most reliable pick to find the net on Sunday. Let’s face it, he usually has plenty of chances to find the net thanks to Marcelo Bielsa’s system.
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