How fortress Elland Road points to promotion for Leeds United

Ben White: Big impression.
Ben White: Big impression.
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THE very mention of Sir Alex Ferguson’s name is usually enough to rankle any Leeds United supporters worth their salt.

Yet one famous statement made by the former Svengali of Old Trafford might just have those on the White Rose side of the Pennines nodding their head in approval, given current events at Elland Road in 2019-20.

Recent history suggests that those sides who boast the best defensive Championship record at the end of the regular campaign in early May are usually popping the Champagne corks.

Leon Wobschall

Ferguson opined during happier and trophy-laden times on the red side of Manchester that while “attack wins you games, defence wins you titles”.

Given the club’s painful exile from the Premier League, a top-two finish this season would certainly suffice for Leeds but some Championship silverware would undoubtedly provide delicious icing.

That is very much for the future. But recent history suggests that those sides who boast the best defensive Championship record at the end of the regular campaign in early May are usually popping the Champagne corks.

Sheffield United, who possessed the best record last term, were promoted automatically and back in 2017-18, the sides with the two meanest defences in Wolves and Cardiff City occupied the top two.

The same applied in 2016-17 when Newcastle United and Brighton finished neck-and-neck at the top, while in 2015-16, all the three sides with the best goals against record in Burnley, Middlesbrough and Hull City went up.

Given that rationale, Leeds, for all the seemingly endless debate – some would say obsession – about their lack of ruthlessness in front of goal and lamentable conversion rate in terms of chances to goals presently look to be in an imperious place regarding their defensive capabilities.

Alongside the Championship’s best goals against record of eight in 15 matches – they have let in two goals in a league game on just one occasion this campaign – Leeds’ concession of 7.55 per 90 minutes is the top average in terms of fewest shots against in games.

Their average concession of just 12 crosses per game is also the best in the division.

As is conceding 10 ‘big chances’ so far in 2019-20 according to Wyscout, with their defensive resolution underpinned by a ferocious intensity when they do not have the ball.

In layman’s terms, Leeds – who have not conceded a first-half Championship goal at Elland Road so far this season - can be perceived to hunt in packs and be positively ravenous in that regard.

In possession, the graceful and beguiling on-pitch pictures painted by Leeds continues to showcase ‘Bielsa ball’ in the most glowing of lights.

But perhaps the most significant development of the season has arrived in the seamless transition in the heart of the defence – following the loss of one talisman in Pontus Jansson and the emergence of another in double-quick time in Ben White.

Famously towards the end of last season, Marcelo Bielsa – in a rare departure given his near-constant focus on the team collective – took the unusual step of singling out Jansson for praise, stating that the Swede was Leeds’ “best player in the Championship” in 2018-19.

The evidence of Jansson’s peers reaffirmed that judgement when he was named in the PFA’s team of the year and his summer departure to Brentford left a potentially cavernous hole to fill.

That White has stepped into the breach so effortlessly and has rapidly assumed an air of permanence has ensured that the loss of Jansson has been so negligible will represent a source of immense pride and relief to those in the corridors of power at Elland Road.

The devout hope now will be that the defensive order is not disrupted by any loss of goalkeeper Kiko Casilla to any potential suspension – with the Spaniard having until next Tuesday to officially respond to his FA racism charge.