Leeds United's damaging keep-ball exercise revealed as promotion strategy emerges in remaining 'cup finals'

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Leeds United have struggled against teams operating a low block this season, especially in recent fixtures against Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers, but the Whites are unlikely to face such an approach in their final three games.

Leeds' remaining fixtures see Daniel Farke's men travel to Middlesbrough and QPR before a final day showdown against promotion rivals Southampton, who until very recently appeared out of the automatic promotion picture.

A resurgence by the Saints, coupled with Leeds, Leicester City and Ipswich Town all faltering at the same time, has allowed Russell Martin's squad back into the automatic promotion conversation, setting up a tantalising final few weeks of the 2023/24 Championship campaign.

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The past fortnight has undoubtedly been Leeds' most disappointing of the season, losing at Coventry City, followed by a painstaking goalless draw at home to Sunderland then squandering their unbeaten streak at Elland Road versus Blackburn. While there is quite justified concern amongst supporters that the club may have to rely on the play-offs for promotion back to the Premier League, it's likely United will encounter different problems in their next three than those posed by sides met in recent weeks and struggled against earlier in the season.

Take Middlesbrough, for example, playing with their tails very much up and on a nine-game unbeaten run, conceding just five times during that period. Michael Carrick's men will be aiming to finish the season as strongly as possible and at the Riverside Stadium are hardly likely to show Leeds too much respect by sitting deep, absorbing pressure and forfeiting possession of the ball. Boro will want to play on the front foot and compound the misery of Leeds' recent results, which should make for a more open game next Monday night.

QPR are in an altogether different position, nearer the foot of the table and with three games remaining sit three points above the relegation places. They face Preston North End at Loftus Road six days before welcoming Leeds next Friday and will target points on home turf ahead of a potentially tricky final day visit to Coventry. If Marti Cifuentes' team do not take maximum points from Preston this weekend, the R's cannot afford to play for a draw when Leeds arrive in the capital, which again should make for an open contest, possibly playing into Leeds' hands.

United's Kryptonite this term has been low blocks employed by the opposition. Leeds had 73 per cent possession against Blackburn last weekend but could not find an opening and failed to reduce the deficit by enough to salvage anything from their trip to the Coventry Building Society Arena at the start of the month, whilst having 76 per cent of the ball in the second half.

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Similarly, Leeds had 68 per cent possession during the stalemate with Sunderland, 78 per cent in the recent draw with Huddersfield and 74 per cent when the team drew 1-1 with relegated Rotherham United back in November. In fact, during every Championship game Leeds have lost this season, they have had more possession than their opponent, often by a considerable margin.

On the final day, Leeds host Southampton whose average possession over the course of this season is the highest in the division. Middlesbrough, meanwhile, boast the fifth-highest average possession at home during 2023/24. Leeds' record in games when they have enjoyed less than 50 per cent of the ball this season reads: played five, won four, drawn one - and the only time they failed to win was when they went down to ten men against Hull City at the beginning of the season.

It may seem counter-intuitive but giving up more of the ball to the opposition could be the key to Leeds getting back on track in these three remaining 'cup finals', as Farke put it.

"If I can give one message, we have to make sure as a group of players, as staff members, we are together with our supporters," the manager said earlier this month.

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“If you really want something to cheer about at the end of the season, let's make sure that we play this last three home games like cup finals.

“Make sure that we have the best possible atmosphere ever.

"Our supporters, if they really want to celebrate in the end of season together with us, make sure if it's in any way possible that you guys carry us also through, even a bit in challenging periods during the game.”

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