Leeds United relishing 'do-or-die' phase of season, says Daniel Farke

Leeds United have acquired a sharper focus since entering the "do-or-die" phase of the season, according to manager Daniel Farke.

The Whites play Southampton at Wembley in Sunday's Championship play-off final, where the winners – be it over 90 minutes, 120 or a penalty shoot-out – will earn an instant return to the world's most glamorous and lucrative domestic football league following relegation 12 months ago.

On top of the crushing professional disappointment of missing out on the Premier League, the losers will have to work out how to balance the books without the riches it offers. Players will almost certainly have to be sold, and some who have enhanced their reputations this season will be keen to leave.

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The stakes are therefore extremely highly, but Farke has sensed a shift in mood from his players since they limped to the finish line in the regular season, winning just one of their final six matches and losing the last to Sunday's opponents, who also beat them 3-1 at St Mary's in September.

DO OR DIE: Leeds United manager Daniel FarkeDO OR DIE: Leeds United manager Daniel Farke
DO OR DIE: Leeds United manager Daniel Farke

But the goalless first leg of their semi-final against Norwich City showed a return of the defensive edge that had gone missing in a poor run-in, the second the attacking flair which has set up a game which really could go either way.

"Play-off football is always special because it's a do-or-die game," commented Farke, who is managing in the play-offs and at Wembley for the first time. "You can't make any mistakes, you have to be spot on.

"It's not like the league games where you have 46 games and you have difficult spells but you can repair it with some other good results.

"These are more or less cup games.

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"The focus is pretty special and the concentration level is very high. You have to make sure the players are not over-motivated and not nervous, that's quite important.”

The more spaced-out fixture list in the play-offs has also worked in Farke’s advantage, he believes. The benefits of having a clear work to prepare were evident before the semi-final first leg at Carrow Road, and this game was set up on Thursday of last week.

"I liked the fact we had a bit of time to prepare,” commented the German. “After a win like Norwich (4-0 in the second leg) normally you want to play three or four days later to keep this good feeling but I also quite like a bit of time to prepare and work with the players.

"During the season we were always at our best when we had more or less time to prepare for the next opponent and work on our habits, content and principles.

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"As a manager I was quite happy to have a bit of time to prepare my team in a proper way. The negative aspect is that the opposition manager has also had time to do that but we've got the feeling we are prepared."

Farke is battling history, with his club never having won promotion via the play-offs in five attempts, or even scored in the final in the modern format.

Then again, they had not scored at Elland Road in a play-off game until last week and the way Southampton fan Rishi Sunak's week is going, perhaps you should bet the farm on a Leeds win if the Prime Minister is in the Wembley stands.

The reality is that this is a well-matched final. Southampton also finished the season poorly, also drew their semi-final first leg 0-0 – against West Bromwich Albion – and also looked more like themselves in the home game which followed, winning 3-1.

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"If it would be easy, it's not my job," reasoned Farke. "I always like challenges and something where you can create something special.

"I was never too attracted by being the 147th coach who wins the 347th title for a club, I want to create something special and if possible a bit of a legacy.

"There are some coaching legends for Leeds United – we all know the names – and I'm far away from being allowed to compare myself with them. Hopefully in a few years once we can establish the club in the Premier League I can also be proud to have played a little part in the history of this club.

"The first step is to make sure we return back to the Premier League.

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"I was hoping it would work as quickly as possible but if you had asked me in September I would have said we needed a little miracle to go up at the first time of asking. Right now we have a 50-50 chance.

"We have an important training session on Saturday to work on our work against the ball and with the ball, and a few details. Quite often one or two percent are decisive."

Farke was playing no games in his pre-match press conference, announcing a knee injury will keep Patrick Bamford out.

"I would have preferred to have Patrick available because last time when he was not and we were facing Southampton we didn't win," said Farke. "But we have to face reality. He is not there. It's up to us to find some other solutions.

"I trust my whole group. There are no complaints or searching for excuses.."

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