Times have changed with Leeds United sorted as Pontus Jansson's Brentford and Swansea City await finale
THIS is a rather different back end of May to the ones Leeds United have been used to.
A first one in 18 years as a Premier League side, not since 2003 given that the Whites were relegated from the top flight in May 2004.
A route back was finally sealed last year yet May 2020 presented a situation nobody was used to as the football season remained on hold in the country’s battle against coronavirus.
Leeds were still very much a Championship side and the previous season the Whites were licking their wounds following defeat in the play-offs semi-final.
Yet this time, United can kick back and look on as recent rivals Brentford and Swansea City battle it out to complete the formation of next season’s Premier League in today’s Championship play-off final.
There won’t be too much relaxation at Elland Road as the work never truly stops and the Whites will already be working hard to strengthen ahead of their second season back in the top flight.
But this is altogether different and a much more enjoyable experience for Leeds who have spent the last 16 years at this time still seeking promotion.
A lot has happened in the last year in the global battle against Covid-19, from which the country is at least nearing some sort of return to normality.
But this time last year Leeds still had nine games of their Championship promotion push remaining having not played since the 2-0 victory at home to Huddersfield Town on March 7.
The season eventually resumed some 15 weeks later but it took until last weekend for fans to finally return to the Elland Road stands for Sunday’s season finale against West Brom.
It was a game in which a 3-1 victory sealed United’s 18th victory of a stellar Premier League return, a ninth-placed finish and an altogether different landscape to the one the club have been used to at this time of year.
In the end, last year’s late spring and early summer months proved a time to celebrate as Marcelo Bielsa’s side picked up where they left off in March and stormed to promotion as champions.
But the job was far from complete at this time last year, even with Leeds having been left with a seven-point cushion in the division’s automatic promotion places after March’s victory against Huddersfield at Elland Road.
There were all sorts of questions to answer, not least keeping the club’s finances in a healthy state amidst a global pandemic and no fans to watch games.
Would the season even be concluded?
If it wasn’t, would positions stand?
Even then, once the campaign did finally restart, Leeds suffered a 2-0 defeat at Cardiff City which brought the pack a little closer – including recent rivals Brentford and Swansea – and the picture this time last year was anything but relaxed.
Rather like matters might be feeling at Brentford and Swansea at present ahead of today’s Championship play-off final in which former Whites centre-back and now Bees captain Pontus Jansson will look to finally achieve his dream of becoming a Premier League footballer.
Leeds had some decent tussles with Brentford during their last couple of seasons in the Championship, first against a Bees side managed by Dean Smith and then Thomas Frank who remains at the helm with the London side one game away from sealing promotion.
Quite who would fare better in the Premier League out of Swansea and Brentford remains to be seen but a trip to south Wales would certainly be less of a trek, even if Brentford is not exactly down the road.
And Bees captain Jansson still has plenty of friends at Elland Road, as will no doubt be evident from the comments on whatever Instagram post he opts for, be it in joy or despair after today’s play-off final.
Thankfully Leeds don’t have to bother with the play-offs now which were never kind to United – unsuccessful in five attempts at them from the old Division Two, the Championship, League One twice, and then the Championship again.
But Leeds don’t have to worry about it this time and can kick back and enjoy a superb Saturday from a football entertainment point of view. Brentford v Swansea for a place in the Premier League followed by the Champions League final of Chelsea against Manchester City.
These days, it is the latter duo who have been Leeds United’s most recent rivals and times have definitely changed at Elland Road.
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Thank you Laura Collins