Thomas Christiansen spelled out the importance of Friday’s derby against Sheffield United by describing the game as a mark of Leeds United’s promotion credentials and warning that his side can not afford to slip seven points behind Chris Wilder’s Blades.
Christiansen heightened the anticipation around tomorrow’s televised clash at Elland Road, saying his players “have to face how important it is” ahead of a match which brings together the Championship’s third and fourth-placed clubs.
Sheffield United have followed up their League One title success last season by climbing to the verge of the automatic promotion places and will move to the top of the Championship if they win at Elland Road.
Leeds lie just four points behind, putting both clubs in early contention for a top-two finish, but despite the campaign being just 13 games old, Christiansen insisted that a seven-point deficit would be “too many at this point”.
“We all have to face how important it is,” United’s head coach said. “This game is not only three points. It’s (against) a direct rival and it’s important if we want to stay up there that we take the three points.”
Leeds led the Championship a month ago before suffering a spate of four defeats in five games, a run arrested by an impressive 3-0 win away at Bristol City last weekend.
Asked if tomorrow’s result would be an indicator of his side’s ability to fight for automatic promotion, Christiansen said: “I believe so. We have a direct opponent who are in the top six. If we lose we will be seven points away from Sheffield United. At this point of the league, that’s too many points.
“But it’s a long season and our intention is to progress. Of course we’ll have our ups and downs, like we’ve had already, but we’ve created a very good – and perhaps a little bit wrong – illusion in people with the way we played and where we were a few weeks ago in first position.
“We have to be realistic. Our goal is the top six. This is the goal for the rest of the season.”
Leeds and Sheffield United last met in 2011, shortly before the Blades’ relegation to League One, but Wilder’s side won that division with 100 points in May, ending a six-year stint below the Championship.
“I cannot speak about League One because I haven’t been there,” Christiansen said, “but the gaps (between divisions) from my point of view are not so big, as we saw when we faced Burnley and Leicester (in the League Cup).
“They’re a team where the majority of the players have played together and know each other. The coach is a good coach who has brought the team to a very good position. But I believe more in what we do on the pitch. If we do things correctly, we should be able to win.”