LEEDS UNITED head coach Marcelo Bielsa has often talked about the Championship season in terms of blocks of games. The overall block of 46 is what matters most.
Nevertheless, segmentalised, his team’s first block of five fixtures remain by far their best – four wins and a draw – with the seven matches before the season’s first international break as a whole yielding five wins and two draws.
Six more Championship encounters brought a less rosy return of two wins, three draws and a first defeat with the October/November period featuring two wins, a draw and another two defeats.
Following the November international break, Bielsa’s men are now approaching what could be considered their fourth block of games with nine fixtures awaiting the Whites in 39 days between next Saturday’s home clash with Bristol City and the New Year’s Day showdown at Nottingham Forest. In a tightly packed Championship, only seven points separating the teams from second down to 12th, all chasing down new leaders and form team Norwich City.
But on the figures at least United’s fourth block is a kind one with seven of United’s next eight opponents ninth or lower and three of them in the bottom five.
Furthermore, United’s next opponents Bristol City might sit 13th but the Robins are fourth-bottom in the Championship form table taken over the last ten games with only two wins and two draws to speak of and arriving at Elland Road on the back of three consecutive defeats. Leeds themselves need to bounce back from their heaviest loss of the season suffered in Saturday’s defeat at West Brom and injuries remain a concern though Whites star Pablo Hernandez believed there were reasons for thinking the season’s third international break coming at a good time for Bielsa’s Whites.
Lee Johnson’s Robins are waiting on the other side with the Bristol City manager believing next Saturday’s trip to Elland Road is the perfect fixture for his side.
“I think Leeds away is the best game you can have now,” said Johnson after Saturday’s 1-0 loss at home to Preston North End. “You’re the underdog and we seem to play very well as the underdog and not very well when we’re expected to win. The next one at Leeds has to be spirited. I’m quite glad it’s away because we’ve probably got a better chance of getting something away from home.” Yet three of City’s last away trips have resulted in defeats – at Wigan, West Brom and Reading who United then welcome to Elland Road a week on Tuesday for their second fixture after the international break, taking on another side struggling for form.
Paul Clement’s men have won only two of their last eight fixtures away from the Madejski have brought about just six points with their last three away days all resulting in defeat. Following the Royals clash, Leeds will tackle what on paper appears their hardest fixture of the next block of games at fourth-placed Sheffield United but the Blades are the only one of United’s next nine opponents to sit in the top eight. Tenth-placed QPR then visit Elland Road the following weekend before United travel to second-bottom Bolton Wanderers who have lost six of their last seven.
A juicy clash at Aston Villa then awaits on the Sunday before Christmas with Villa seemingly looking rejuvenated based on back to back wins at home to Bolton and at Derby County. Blackburn Rovers – who sit ninth – then travel to Elland Road on Boxing Day with Leeds looking to avenge the 2-1 defeat at Ewood Park last month.
United’s year then ends with a home clash against another struggling side in Hull City who sit third bottom, albeit unbeaten in their last three.
But it means that five of United’s next eight games are at home and the fixture list could have definitely thrown up assignments against higher ranked teams. The deflation following Saturday’s defeat at West Brom was clear to see with United blowing the chance to remain top and are now third and three points behind Norwich City.
Since their 3-0 loss at home to Leeds at the end of August, the Canaries have picked up 29 points from a subsequent possible 36 – easily the best in the division over that period and six better than QPR in that spell. Bielsa will hope for something similar at Leeds – with back-to-back home games against two out-of-sorts sides the launchpad for the Whites to build from.