Opinion: Leeds United Are Still Automatic Promotion Contenders

Following last season’s unfortunate relegation from the Premier League, Leeds United fans have been through the mill a little bit with all the managerial changes, plus a switch in ownership, but the club are looking forward again and have entrusted Daniel Farke to lead them back to the top flight.

Everyone knew it would be a difficult task at the first time of asking as they rebuilt the squad, and Farke has overseen plenty of changes on that front, but the Elland Road outfit have also had to keep one eye on financial elements with obviously reduced revenue – even accounting for the Premier League parachute payment. Relegation came as a bit of a shock as the Premier League odds at the beginning of last season suggested they would finish well clear of the drop, but considering all of the changes, it has not been a bad start to their 2023/24 Championship campaign.

Farke has his own desires and wants from the players, and the adjustment period has been fairly smooth. 17 games into the season, the 47-year-old former German striker has overseen nine wins, with five draws. With only three defeats, they sit in third place on the table on 32 points.

Ipswich Town in second spot have a seven point advantage over them, with fellow relegated side Leicester City occupying top spot with a ten point advantage. With so many games left in the campaign though, that picture could very easily have changed by the time we hit February and begin to enter the final few weeks of the season.

From Leeds’ perspective, their more recent run of form has been pretty steady and largely stable and they are unbeaten in the last four games, despite suffering a very disappointing draw in their last game with Rotherham United. The top two have also slipped up recently with Ipswich losing their last game, and Leicester losing two of their last three.

The twists and turns will not be finished here though, and a ten point gap is certainly not insurmountable and although the Foxes would have to be considered firm favourites right now, it is still way too early in the season for firm determinations to be made.

Leeds will be looking to close that gap further, as later on today they host Swansea City and look to maintain what is now the Championship’s only unbeaten home record. Leeds would consider themselves favourites for this tie given Swansea have struggled so far and find themselves down in 17th place in the table, but Farke is expecting a tough battle anyway.

“I like them,” said the German. “They’ve changed their style a bit but not in a bad way, not at all. You can still see their DNA, they’re good in their passing quality. They put some intensity into their game.”

As everyone in the wider world of football begins to slowly make predictions about how the current campaign may shape up, BBC Radio Leeds’ podcast, Don’t Go To Bed Just Yet, recently saw Jonathan Buchan and Adam Pope comment that they thought Farke would become even more demanding as we go into the festive fixture crush, and then, the second half of the season, given they should at least, be considered big favourites for the Play Off spots and a trip to Wembley.

Buchan commented. “I wonder if we are going to start seeing that other side of him, where he will still publicly defend his players, but might be more demanding of his players?

“Now that everything has settled and we are through that difficult period at the start of the season, they then had that great run – I wonder if we will see another side of him where he is like ‘we expect now to win these games’ and if that will change the mentality to ramp up the pressure on this group?”

Pope added: “I think the way he talked about the missed chances [against Rotherham], that’s his way of doing it. Even when he’s doing it he has a knack of not looking like he’s hanging them out completely to dry.

“He does it in a way where he isn’t sugar-coating anything but there is definitely a hard side. I don’t want to call it a dark side, but there is a hard side to him.”

The Rotherham match will certainly be one that Farke remembers as he pushes the squad to gain promotion and return to the Premier League at the first time of asking, as they did have the lead six minutes into the game, but despite dominating the opening 45 minutes, they were extremely wasteful – and sides with ambitions simply cannot be at this level. It also saw the side miss out on a seventh win in their last eight matches, but despite this partial hiccup, their form would continue to imply that they are good favourites to close the gap on the two teams above them and ultimately mount a genuine automatic promotion chase.

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