Such high stakes for Leeds United even if they beat Sheffield United at Elland Road on Saturday

Leeds United are 25 points clear of Sheffield United with 27 points left to play for - they won’t be caught by the Blades this season.

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 5:39 am
HIGH STAKES - Tyler Roberts missed an opportunity for Wales this week due to off-field behaviour so will hope to get more chances for Leeds United to state his case for the Euros. Pic: Getty

On Saturday the Whites can make it a mathematical certainty by beating Paul Heckingbottom’s men at Elland Road and crossing the 40-point threshold.

It would be another giant step towards the point at which Marcelo Bielsa will admit his side is safe from a return to the Championship, although no one expects him to talk safety until it becomes fact and, even then, he’s unlikely to laud it as an achievement or a destination.

A win this weekend will probably lead to talk of free hits, an implied suggestion that Leeds, unfettered by any lingering worry over the threat of relegation, can go and attack the remainder of their fixtures with reckless abandon.

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There is no such thing as a free hit, however, when your head coach is Bielsa and every single game, regardless of the identity of the opposition, is there to be won.

Don’t expect Leeds to view the mouthwatering hat-trick of games against Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United that follows the Blades game any differently than they would at any other stage of the season.

Leeds won’t have all-out attack in mind when they go to Manchester City any more than they did when they welcomed Pep Guardiola and his men to Elland Road back in October.

If anything is evidence of Leeds’ one-size-fits-all approach it was their defeats at Old Trafford and the Emirates, where they were staring down the barrel of heavy, humiliating defeats and continued to attack right to the end against teams they knew had the firepower to punish them ruthlessly every time they took a risk. The only thing that might change, when Leeds face Manchester United this time round, is the type of motivation that they carry into the game, seeking an element of revenge for what happened in the first game, desperately trying to avoid anything similar on home soil.

But the season will not end with a change in Leeds United’s ethos. It will be the same as ever – attack from start to finish.

Nor will the campaign be allowed to fizzle out. Bielsa would simply not permit it, for a start, and does not appear the kind of boss to start freely handing out match minutes to fringe players and youngsters because relegation is off the table.

It’s easy to predict strong starting line-ups from here to the very end, although some first-team exposure for Joe Gelhardt, Sam Greenwood and Cody Drameh among others would be exciting.

And the players themselves have too much riding on the final section of the season to hit the beach early.

There’s so much to prove, for so many in Bielsa’s squad. Just this week Tyler Roberts, through a very human but very avoidable error, gave himself even more of a reason to hit top form in the last Premier League games.

Quite how Bielsa, a former national team boss, will view the hotel high jinks that saw Roberts packing his bags and heading for home early, remains to be seen. Roberts can scarcely afford to pass up opportunities like the one he might have had against Czech Republic had he not broken a curfew, however, so he can only hope Bielsa considers the matter fully dealt with by the Welsh camp. He can only hope for chances to impress upon everyone just how seriously he’s taking his football, in the last nine games of the season.

Others, like the injured Rodrigo, the returning-from-illness Liam Cooper and returning-from-surgery Robin Koch, missed out on international action this time and, with such little game time on offer before the Euros come around, will be desperate to show Bielsa they deserve to feature heavily in the first team, in order to convince their national team coaches they should feature in the summer tournament. Patrick Bamford could not have done much more to state his case to Gareth Southgate already this season, yet staying fit, in form and among the goals will at least keep him on the radar until the Three Lions Euros squad is known.

There are cases to be made for new contracts and places in Bielsa’s plans for next season.

And beyond all of that, you never know when your last game will be or, in the case of Adam Forshaw, when injury will strike to keep you from doing what you love for an excruciatingly long period of time. There is always something to play for and opportunities are not endless.

Leeds aren’t going to be relegated, that much has been obvious for a long time, yet even when they make it certain there will be no easing up or winding down.

The stakes will remain high to the end.