Leeds United manager Daniel Farke's crucial role recognised as Whites target Wembley play-off final prize

MIDFIELDER Ilia Gruev says Leeds United’s players have thrived under the managerial style of Daniel Farke this season.

Leeds are bidding to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt in Sunday’s winner-takes-all Championship play-off final against Southampton at Wembley.

Russell Martin’s Saints may hold a slight psychological advantage going into the encounter having won 3-1 at St Mary’s Stadium in September and 2-1 at Elland Road on the final day of the regular season as Leeds missed out on automatic promotion.

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But any potential pressure Leeds’ players may feel from that inferior head-to-head record will be tempered by the confidence and self-belief instilled in them by their manager throughout the 2023-24 campaign.

FOR STARTERS: Leeds United United's Ilia Gruev celebrates opening the scoring against Norwich City at Elland Road last Thursday. Picture: Jonathan GawthorpeFOR STARTERS: Leeds United United's Ilia Gruev celebrates opening the scoring against Norwich City at Elland Road last Thursday. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
FOR STARTERS: Leeds United United's Ilia Gruev celebrates opening the scoring against Norwich City at Elland Road last Thursday. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Leeds sealed their place at Wembley with a convincing 4-0 second-leg win against Farke’s former club Norwich in the semi-finals and Gruev was quick to acknowledge the positive influence of his head coach.

“He plays such a big role. You know what he expects from you, which is very important,” said the Bulgaria international, whose free-kick opened the scoring against Norwich.

“When there are no journalists, he talks in a different way with us, which is very good because he’s direct and the players know how to deal with it. It helps you because he wants to improve you, make you a better player and keeps pushing to make a better team.”

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When asked if the two previous losses against Southampton would weigh heavy on the minds of Leeds’ players, Gruev replied: “No, why should it?

LEADING MAN: Leeds United manager Daniel Farke at full-time after beating former club Norwich City 4-0 at Elland Road last Thursday. Picture: Jonathan GawthorpeLEADING MAN: Leeds United manager Daniel Farke at full-time after beating former club Norwich City 4-0 at Elland Road last Thursday. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
LEADING MAN: Leeds United manager Daniel Farke at full-time after beating former club Norwich City 4-0 at Elland Road last Thursday. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“We know what type of team we have, what a great team we are, and we know we have to show this on Sunday. If we play at our best I know we can beat Southampton at Wembley and go to the Premier League.

“It’s going to be another different game at Wembley, so it doesn’t bother us much that we lost the games before.”

Leeds are hoping striker Patrick Bamford can recover from the knee injury which has kept him out of their last four matches as they bid to win promotion via the play-offs for the first time in six attempts.