LEEDS UNITED head coach Marcelo Bielsa insists it is still too early to say the scrap for automatic promotion is a three-way affair.
The Elland Road club, who yesterday revealed a loss of £4.3m for the last financial year, head to Birmingham City tomorrow sitting second in the table, two points clear of Sheffield United with seven games remaining.
Leaders Norwich City enjoy a five-point advantage over Leeds, leading many to consider Daniel Farke’s men to be almost there and the fight for runners-up spot as an all-Yorkshire affair.
Bielsa, however, is adamant West Bromwich Albion, four points behind the Blades and six adrift of Leeds, cannot be ruled out until it is mathematically impossible to catch the White Rose duo.
“In football to imagine what is going to happen is very difficult,” said Bielsa, who welcomes back top scorer Kemar Roofe after eight games out.
“One of the best things about football is how unpredictable it is. To make a hypothesis or to imagine the future is not easy and it is not convenient either because you have a lot of room for mistakes.
“I have in mind all the mathematical options that can happen. We cannot say something will not happen when, from a mathematical point of view, it can.”
The stakes are high for all the clubs chasing the Holy Grail of a place in the Premier League.
With promotion guaranteeing a £100m windfall from TV income alone, the balance sheet of any club who can make it to the top flight will be transformed.
Leeds’s £4.3m loss for the 2017-18 financial year – which followed a profit of £976,367 for the previous 12 months – was modest compared to many in the Championship.
But the deficit in what was Andrea Radrizzani’s first full year at the helm came despite annual income rising by a little over £6m to £40.7m.
Only four of the 21 Championship clubs to have pubished their accounts for 2017-18 can eclipse this turnover and all benefited from parachute payments – Hull City (£56.7m), Norwich (£61.7m), Middlesbrough (£62m) and Aston Villa (£68.6m).
Administrative expenses at Leeds rose dramatically from £37m to £53m to create an operating loss of £20m that was partly offset by player sales, which included Chris Wood’s £15m move to Burnley in August, 2017.
Total player sales stood at £18.1m (up from £8.9m in 2016-17), a sum that does not include Ronaldo Vieira’s departure to Sampdoria last August.
The wage bill jumped from £20m to £31.4m following an influx of signings, both at first team and Academy level, during Radrizzani’s first summer in sole control following Massimo Cellino’s departure.
Gate receipts rose by £1m to £11m, while Elland Road’s staging of the IBF featherweight title fight between Josh Warrington and Lee Selby last summer earned the club around £1.3m in commercial revenue.
The accounts cover the 12 months to June 30, 2018, a period that included United’s home of 99 years being bought back from a private landlord in a deal that cost £20m.
Elland Road was acquired by Greenfield Investment Pte Ltd, a firm controlled by Radrizzani and United’s current parent company. The club have a lease agreement with Greenfield to June 2032, which includes an “initial rent-free period” of 33 months.
The latest financial figures also revealed bonuses and add-ons agreed during transfer negotiations could cost the club up to £25m if Leeds win promotion to the top flight.
This, of course, is easier said than done. Leeds are in a hugely encouraging position, but 21 points to play for means all manner of scenarios could play out.
In the space of five days, for instance, both Leeds and Sheffield United travel to Birmingham City and Preston North End.
With the Blues still smarting from a nine-point deduction, former Leeds boss Garry Monk’s men will be keen to move away from trouble at the wrong end of the table as fast as possible.
Leeds will head to St Andrews boosted by the return of Roofe, who injured knee ligaments in the 2-1 victory over Swansea City on February 13.
A place on the bench seems most likely for the 14-goal top scorer especially as Bielsa yesterday was quick to defend Patrick Bamford following his afternoon to forget against Millwall last weekend.
“Patrick Bamford is a very serious player,” said the Argentinian about a striker who missed a penalty against the Lions and struggled to make an impact.
“He takes responsibility for the work we do during the week. He has a very strong mind, and his opinion is true. Maybe it was not his best game, but his level of motivation is the same.”
United will be without Barry Douglas, whose season is over following surgery on a ruptured medial ligament, but Izzy Brown is fit, while Kiko Casilla should return in goal after a one-game ban.