Leeds United's Boxing Day battle has Marcelo Bielsa wary of Preston North End threat

HEAD COACH Marcelo Bielsa has warned that Leeds United are facing a thriving and “recovering” Preston North End team in today’s Boxing Day showdown at Elland Road.

Thursday, 26th December 2019, 6:00 am

Alex Neil’s Lilywhites sat second in the Championship and ahead of third-placed Leeds on goal difference following their 3-1 win at home to Huddersfield Town last month but four consecutive defeats were to follow.

As Leeds continued winning ways and chalked up seven-straight victories, Preston fell adrift of the automatic promotion places as United and current leaders West Brom kicked on in the top two.

United had a ten-point cushion in the automatic promotion spots ahead of their recent hosting of Cardiff City in which Leeds led 3-0 after an hour but the Bluebirds fought back to leave with a 3-3 draw which together with Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Fulham has seen United’s buffer trimmed.

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WE'LL MEET AGAIN: Preston North End boss Alex Neil and Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa embrace before October's 1-1 draw at Deepdale. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Sheffield Wednesday now occupy third spot but fourth-placed Fulham and fifth-placed Preston are only one point further back with the Lilywhites having recovered from their late November and early December barren run by picking up seven points in their last their last three games.

The Lancastrians are still only rated seventh favourites to finish in the top two behind Leeds, West Brom, Fulham, Brentford, Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea City in that order with Leeds and West Brom long odds on at 1-7 and 1-6 respectively.

But Bielsa is full of respect for today’s visitors who the Whites head coach says are benefiting from keeping their best players apart from the summer departure of Callum Robinson to Premier League outfit Sheffield United.

“Preston are doing well,” said Bielsa.

“This is a team that have kept their players - just the transfer of the number seven. It’s one team that had a bad moment and now is recovering, and they have a regular way of play.”

Leeds are now three points leaders West Brom after Saturday’s reverse at fourth-placed Fulham but after the division’s top two, only seven points separate third to 14th.

Asked if he felt the Championship was stronger or weaker this year, Bielsa reasoned: “There are more teams with a similar level.

“Performances of the teams are more similar between each other.

“At the moment, there is not one team making a big difference between the rest of the teams, from the middle of the table to first place.”