Leeds United v Sheffield United: Derby outcome is vital for Leeds

THE clocks may not go back until the early hours of Sunday, but head coach Thomas Christiansen says Leeds United simply cannot afford to let promotion rivals Sheffield United open a seven-point advantage over his side by winning tonight's derby.

Leeds United manager Thomas Christiansen (Picture: Tony Johnson).

The eagerly-awaited Elland Road meeting pits the two sides sitting fourth and third in the table against each other with the Blades knowing victory will be enough to move to the top of the Championship.

Leeds, meanwhile, sit four points adrift of Chris Wilder’s Blades heading into an all-White Rose affair that should reveal plenty about the two clubs’ respective attempts to reach the Premier League.

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“We all have to face how important it is,” said Christiansen, whose only previous taste of derby football within the Broad Acres ended in a dreadful loss at Sheffield Wednesday.

“This game is not only (about) three points. It is against a direct rival and it is also, for us, important that we take the three points.

“We have a direct opponent who are in that top six. If we lose, we will be seven points away from Sheffield United. At this point of the league, that is too many points.”

Leeds led the Championship until a run of three straight defeats allowed Cardiff City and then Wolverhampton Wanderers to scramble to the summit.

Now the Blades want to claim pole position and continue the remarkable progress made under Wilder over the past 16 months.

A record-breaking title success in League One was expected to be followed by a year of consolidation at a level the club had not sampled since 2011.

Instead, Wilder’s men have been a revelation with victories over Wolves and Steel City rivals Wednesday having helped the last ten games yield 24 points for the Bramall Lane outfit.

Leeds’s task is to halt that momentum with a home victory in front of a bumper crowd – something that midfielder Ronaldo Vieira, expected to be recalled as Christiansen reverts to a first choice XI following the midweek Carabao Cup defeat at Leicester City, believes is eminently possible.

“Sheffield United have been doing great, but Bristol City were doing great as well and we just went in there, played our football and won the game (3-0),” added the teenager. “We will try to do the same thing.

“They have done unbelievably well. But, if we do things right, we will get the three points. It is a special game, with it being a Yorkshire derby under the lights.”

Asked about the October 1 defeat at Hillsborough and if there could be a repeat against Wednesday’s neighbours, Vieira replied: “No chance. After the three defeats, everyone knew we had to be tougher in the games we play and that is what we were hoping to do (at Bristol). That is what we are going to do on Friday.

“The training and the gaffer’s ideas, and playing three in midfield, gave us an extra boost, while the players up front had the freedom to go forward and do their thing.”

Stuart Dallas returns for Leeds after missing the last two games following a family bereavement, but Gaetano Berardi and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson are out through suspension and injury respectively.

The absence of the defensive duo could nudge Christiansen into selecting a three-man defence, the set-up that has brought so much success for the Blades under Wilder.

As for the visitors, only Kieron Freeman and Ched Evans are definitely out to leave their manager with plenty to ponder ahead of a night that will see Billy Sharp take on his old club.

All will be revealed with the naming of the teams an hour before kick-off, but, whatever system Christiansen chooses, tonight’s derby has the potential to be a cracker.

The visitors are likely to adopt the same positive approach that saw the game taken to Wednesday in September’s 4-2 triumph at Hillsborough, while the onus will be on Leeds as the host team to be similarly bold in front of their own supporters.

“I cannot speak about League One,” said Christiansen when asked about how well the Blades have adapted to life in the second tier following promotion.

“I haven’t been there. But the gap (between divisions), from my point of view, is not so big. We saw that when we faced Burnley and Leicester (in the Carabao Cup).

“Our Championship is very difficult, there is no favourite before a game starts. Sheffield United are a team where the majority of the players have played together and know each other.

“For us, our goal is the top six. We created a very good – and perhaps a little bit wrong – illusion in people about the way we played (at the start of the season) and how we were a few weeks ago in first position. We have to be realistic.”

Last six games: Leeds United DWLLLWL Sheffield United LWWLWW.

Referee: S Duncan (Northumberland).

Last time: Leeds United 1 Sheffield United 0; September 25, 2010; Championship.

Sharp relishing return to Elland Road: Page 22.