Marcelo Bielsa

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Leeds exercises Bielsa’s second-year option

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Marcelo Bielsa will start a second season with the same club for the first time since 2015.

Hopefully this one lasts more than one match.

Leeds United is exercising its option year in Bielsa’s contract, the Championship club revealed Tuesday following a season spent largely in the automatic promotion places before dipping into the playoff race and bowing out of the competition.

[ MORE: Spanish police investigate La Liga match fixing ]

Leeds had a fantastic run for most of the season, with the meticulous and creative Bielsa getting a lot of the credit.

Leeds spent the entire season in the Top Four, but a six-point advantage over third place dwindled, Bielsa’s staff was caught spying on Derby County, and Leeds finished the season in third.

Bielsa is a detail-oriented manager who is admired by some of the giants of the game, including Pep Guardiola of Manchester City.

He’s also had a combustible time in his last few settings, including leaving Marseille after one game of his sophomore campaign and skipping out on Lazio before coaching a match. He also spent a half-season at Lille before being suspended and ultimately fired.

Bielsa tells Leeds to let Aston Villa score in wild situation (video)

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Marcelo Bielsa told his Leeds United players to let Aston Villa score in their 1-1 draw at Elland Road on Sunday.

And it cost them their slim chances of automatic promotion to the Premier League.

With Villa’s Jonathan Kodjia down injured, Leeds went 1-0 up and then a mass brawl broke out which saw Anwar El Ghazi sent off but replays showed he didn’t touch Patrick Bamford who held his face.

Due to poor sportsmanship, Bielsa then instructed his players to allow Villa to score from the kick off, which didn’t go down well as a win for Leeds would have kept their hopes of being promoted automatically alive. Albert Adomah scored to make it 1-1, and that’s how the game finished.

The draw meant that Sheffield United were promoted to the Premier League, but Leeds’ chances of overtaking the Blades to finish in one of the automatic promotions spots were pretty slim anyway given their vastly inferior goal difference.

Maybe this is Bielsa’s way of making up for Spygate…

So what happened? Here’s the wild passage of play:

Championship Focus: Leeds falters, Sheffield United takes advantage

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The race for Premier League promotion took a few more turns on Monday, as Norwich City missed a chance to assure itself a place in the top flight.

Still, its next point gained or point lost by Leeds or Sheffield United will do the trick.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings ]

Speaking of Sheffield United, the Blades took advantage of Norwich’s stumble and have a shot at Championship title, while Leeds fell at Brentford to fall behind in the race for automatic promotion.

Frank Lampard had a good day with his Derby County, thanks to a win and losses by two playoff contenders. And Aston Villa is buzzing.

Stoke City 2-2 Norwich City

The Canaries blew two leads and now lead the Blades by three points with two matches to play. Teemu Pukki scored his 28th league goal of the season in the draw, which puts them six points clear of third with a 10-point goal differential advantage on Leeds. Thumbs up.

Hull City 0-3 Sheffield United

David McGoldrick scored two of the Blades’ three first-half goals in a tremendous win at the KC Stadium that pulled United three points ahead of Leeds, three back of Norwich City.

Brentford 2-0 Leeds United

Neil Maupay and Sergi Canos scored on either side of halftime as Brentford continued to push Leeds United away from the Top Two. Marcelo Bielsa’s men are now 9W-1D-7L since his staff was caught spying on Derby County training and beat the Rams 2-0, compared with 16W-6D-5L in the run-up to the kerfuffle.

Leeds next hosts red-hot Villa before finishing away to relegated Ipswich Town. Sheffield United hosts Ipswich Town and goes to Stoke, while Norwich City hosts Blackburn and goes to Villa.

Derby County 2-0 Queens Park Rangers

Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson scored two goals in 11 minutes of stoppage time to send Lampard’s men into sixth thanks to losses from Middlesbrough and Bristol City.

“It’s cup football almost now,” Lampard said. “What’s on these games is so much. And we’ve got to get up for it, and we will be. No doubt about that.”

Aston Villa 1-0 Millwall

Dean Smith’s men broke a 109-year-old record with a 10th successive win, as Jonathan Kodjia scored the lone goal at Villa Park. Villa is now fifth on the table and will head to the playoffs.

Elsewhere
Blackburn 2-0 Bolton
Ipswich Town 0-1 Swansea City
Reading 0-0 West Bromwich Albion
Rothertham 1-3 Birmingham City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Bristol City
Wigan Athletic 2-0 Preston North End
Nottingham Forest 3-0 Middlesbrough

WATCH: Game of Thrones star tricks Kimmel audience into Leeds support

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Forget King of the North, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau just wants his club to be promoted to the Premier League.

The Danish actor, 48, was on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” this week to preview the return of “Game of Thrones” this weekend on HBO, and was asked about fan theories for the end of the show.

[ MORE: Andy Carroll to NE Revs? ]

After discussing one option, Coster-Waldau slipped into a story about the magical hero “Bielsa.” Readers of this site will instantly make the connection with the Leeds United manager, beloved by fans of the club and soccer hipsters everywhere.

Hear how Coster-Waldau gets the audience to chant up some good karma in favor of his manager. And if you hate Leeds, at least know that the actor has done good in the name of the game for the United Nations Development Program.

It’s fitting that Coster-Waldau used a little bit of trickery to fool the audience, as Bielsa and the Lannisters don’t mind a bit of gamesmanship.

Taking the temperature of the Championship’s race for promotion

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The Championship has entered the home stretch of the season, with around a dozen or so matches left in the race to earn promotion to the Premier League.

As it stands, the automatic places of first and second are anything but settled and there are seven teams within six points of the final playoff spot, setting the stage for a memorable final couple of months.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s PL match recaps ]

Once the runaway to win the league, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United have taken a hit in form and maybe mystique since the discovery that they were spying on opponents’ training sessions in the run-up to matches.

Leeds is now third in the table following a 1-0 loss at QPR on Tuesday, two points back of Norwich City and one behind Sheffield United. The Whites are 3W-1D-3L since beating Derby County on Jan. 11.

The beautiful thing about the thick-and-fast nature of Championship fixtures is there’s a match with serious table ramifications seemingly every match day. Leeds will tangle with fourth-place West Bromwich Albion come Friday, while Sheffield United has a derby with playoff hopeful Sheffield Wednesday.

Here are the contenders for Premier League status, in two fields.

Automatic promotion

Red-hot Norwich City has lost just three times this season, and neither Leeds nor Sheffield United boasts a six-pointer left with the Canaries on their fixture list. Fourth-place West Brom is bidding for a straight return to the Premier League under Darren Moore, but could be joined on points by former boss Tony Pulis and Middlesbrough if the Smoggies win their match-in-hand. All five are within sight of automatic promotion.

Final playoff spot

While there’s plenty of time for any of the top teams to dip out of the Top Six, it’s looking more and more like about seven teams are vying for one spot. Bristol City has the inside track with 53 points and a match-in-hand on all but one of the teams in the the chasing pack: USMNT prospect Duane Holmes and Derby County. After that, it’s Birmingham City, Nottingham Forest, Preston North End, Hull City, and Sheffield Wednesday. Swansea City could also be within six points of sixth if it wins its match-in-hand and Bristol City and Derby lose theirs, but let’s no dive that deep into headache territory.