Predictions: Whisper it quietly but 2020 should finally be Leeds United's year

OUR Leeds United reporters JOE URQUHART and LEE SOBOT give their verdicts on how 2020 will ultimately pan out for Leeds United.

By Lee Sobot and Joe Urquhart
Saturday, 4th January 2020, 6:00 am
CRUCIAL: Keeping striker Patrick Bamford will be key to Leeds United's cause. Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images.
CRUCIAL: Keeping striker Patrick Bamford will be key to Leeds United's cause. Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images.

Joe Urquhart

HOW do you predict the unpredictable?

The Championship made players, managers, pundits and betting experts look foolish over the hectic festive period.

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

There was Sheffield Wednesday’s capitulation at Stoke City on Boxing Day, as they conceded twice in injury-time to leave the Potteries empty handed having been in a winning position as the added time board was shown.

Leeds United’s trip to St Andrew’s last weekend was perhaps the most notable fixture, as the nine-goal thriller threw up plot twist after plot twist before the Whites’ winner in the fifth minute of added time settled the match.

The game with Pep Clotet’s men went from the ridiculous to the sublime and required three rewrites of a match report before the decision was made to throw it in the bin altogether and start again.

West Brom – who had lost just once all season and were unbeaten at home in all competitions – were that very afternoon falling to defeat at the Hawthorns.

And to Middlesbrough no less, who before that outing had failed to pick up three points on the road under Jonathan Woodgate throughout an up-and-down campaign.

On New Year’s Day, Queens Park Rangers put six goals past Cardiff City at Loftus Road. They’re 15th in the division and two points behind the Bluebirds.

Before a ball was kicked at Elland Road this season there were major question marks over Patrick Bamford’s ability to lead a promotion charge with many believing Eddie Nketiah would finish up as United’s top goalscorer this term.

Now the Arsenal striker is returning to his parent club in search of more minutes after he failed to dislodge Bamford as Bielsa’s main man – with the Whites number nine having bagged 10 goals in 25 league games.

There were similar questions over United’s decision to sell Pontus Jansson – a Championship calibre team of the year centre-back – and replace him with a relatively unknown Brighton loanee.

We’re into January and Ben White has arguably been the signing of the season across the whole division.

Perhaps the only constant in the Championship this season has been Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites and Slaven Bilic’s Baggies.

The two teams have amassed 52 points from their opening 26 games and hold a nine-point advantage over third-placed Brentford.

The two even failed to be separated on New Year’s Day.

While the chasing pack have faltered, Leeds and West Brom have taken advantage.

It was at this time last year that Bielsa’s side started to unravel but with a weaker division and a learning curve undergone, it’s difficult to back against them crossing the finish line into the promised land this time around.

Every question asked of the squad’s character has been answered so far.

The chance to capitulate after a manic half an hour at home against Cardiff City followed by defeat at Fulham presented itself but a good return of points over Christmas has steadied the ship.

A replacement for Nketiah is vital this month, but factoring the rest of the Championship’s ability to constantly beat one another you have to be quietly confident in United’s chances this season.

Managing the gap is going to be key for both, but looking at this season’s pattern it’s hard to back against the top two not finishing as they are currently.

As for the title, it’s there for the taking for either side.

But if both teams are in the Premier League come May, neither will really care.

Predicting the Championship is a thankless task. And the division will no doubt have Whites fans emotions raging in the coming months.

******

Lee Sobot

PREDICTIONS In the Championship...Birmingham City 4 Leeds United 5 anyone?

United’s end-of-2019 clash at St Andrew’s was proof yet again that in English football’s second tier you can expect the unexpected.

With last season in mind, Leeds will never assume they are merely on course for the Premier League until it is mathematically done.

But from a logical and mathematical point of view, 2020 really ought to be the year the Whites are finally promoted back into the country’s top flight after what will be a 16-year absence.

Thereafter, quite what life back in the ‘Prem’ would look like remains to be seen though there’s a feeling United will eventually be in there to compete at the top end.

Why shouldn’t they be? A one-club city from the third biggest city in the country with fanatical support all around the globe. United intend to increase the capacity at Elland Road should they seal promotion and even then Leeds, no doubt, could sell out.

And the fact there is mass interest from potential investors in the Whites is well documented with chairman and owner Andrea Radrizzani revealing in October there were a whole host of parties hoping to become involved but with the Leeds chief keen to wait for exactly the right offers and proposals.

“The most important thing for me is to make this club big again.”

Plans will also continue towards United’s new training complex at the Matthew Murray site though Angus Kinnear said over Christmas that the club’s community sports hub at Fullerton Park would come first in around two years’ time with the switch of the academy into the city centre taking a little bit longer.

But as far as 2020 is concerned, the one move that matters for Leeds is elevation to the top flight with the Whites looking in an even stronger position than this time last year.

The draw at West Brom has the Whites top of the Championship but more importantly nine points clear in the automatic promotion spots, albeit fourth-placed Nottingham Forest would cut that gap to six if winning their game in hand at home to Reading.

Leeds visit Forest on Saturday, February 8 as part of a big week with the Whites also away at third-placed Brentford on the Tuesday night.

Fulham at home on Wednesday, March 18 will be another biggy.

Really, with 20 games left, they are all biggies and even if Leeds are 1-12 to finish in the top two, sealing a place in the autos is unlikely to be easy.

Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa has repeatedly stressed the importance of his squad avoiding a mass spate of injuries and keeping the thriving Patrick Bamford fit will be key.

With Eddie Nketiah having been recalled by parent club Arsenal and set to be loaned elsewhere after a lack of game time, ensuring that Leeds bag the necessary replacements in the January window could also be crucial.

It will also be interesting to see who the latest stars are to emerge from United’s Academy and then there is Monday’s FA Cup date at Arsenal to look forward to. A trip to the Emirates.

But what matters most in 2020 is ensuring that from next season and beyond, visits to the Arsenals are a regular Premier League occurrence.

Whisper it quietly and don’t count your chickens but Leeds look like they are about to make sure that happens.