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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.

Leeds grab 1-0 win at Derby in promotion playoffs

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Leeds United spent the vast majority of the 2018-19 season occupying one of the top two places in the EFL Championship, only to fall out of the automatic promotion spots at the tail end of the season.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines for Championship Sunday ]

If this season’s promotion playoffs are just, they’ll be the third club — joining champions Norwich City and runners-up Sheffield United — in the Premier League come August. The problem with that line of thinking is as follows: the Championship’s promotion playoffs have historically been anything but just.

Saturday was a mightily strong start for Marcelo Bielsa’s side, though, as the third-place Whites secured a 1-0 victory away to Frank Lampard‘s sixth-place Derby County. While away goals are not used in the EFL’s playoffs, it’s still a firm advantage ahead of Wednesday’s semifinal second leg back at Elland Road.

[ MORE: Salford City promoted to the Football League ]

Kemar Roofe bagged the first leg’s only goal, in the 55th minute, set up by a stunner curler of a pass from former New York City FC (and Manchester City loanee) Jack Harrison.

Championship playoff preview: Derby, Leeds, Aston Villa, West Brom

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The Championship playoffs get going this weekend with Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, and Derby County going at it with a spot in the Premier League on the line.

[ PREVIEW: Brighton v. Man City | Liverpool v. Wolves ]

Last year, Fulham finished third just two points behind a guaranteed promotion spot, but managed to earn a place in the top flight via the playoffs. The year before that, Huddersfield Town tasted playoff glory after finishing fifth in the Championship table to earn its first-ever trip to the Premier League.

Aston Villa v. West Bromwich Albion

Villa Park is begging for a return to the Premier League. After the storied club was stunningly relegated three seasons ago for the first time since 1987, it’s been a long, hard road to this point. They finished a disappointing 13th the first time around as hopes of going straight back up vanished, and a fourth place finish last season saw them reach the playoffs but Fulham was last year’s team of destiny and won a slim 1-0 victory over Villa in the final, so the fans have been through this ringer before.

West Brom, meanwhile, is another recent Premier League mainstay looking to get back to the promised land where they’d been for eight straight seasons before last year’s relegation. West Brom has been promoted three since the turn of the millennium, but all came via automatic promotion – both of which defender Chris Brunt were with the club for – while both playoff journeys over that span ended in disappointment.

Aston Villa will have leading scorer Tammy Abraham back from a hamstring injury, a major boost as they look for a trip back to the top flight. The hosts are in great form – an important feature for any playoff team – as they were seven points off the playoff spots in 10th back in mid-February, but rattled off 10 straight wins beginning in early March, and while they’ve slipped in the last two league matches, there is far more riding on this weekend’s tilt.

Derby County v. Leeds United

The top seed in the playoffs gets going first as Leeds United looks for its way back to the top flight for the first time since relegation in 2004. Derby County, meanwhile, hasn’t been back since its disastrous 2007/08 campaign that set the record low for a point haul in a Premier League season.

Still, this matchup has more teeth than just a chance to reach Wembley – it’s the first time these two teams will meet since the Spygate mayhem that marred their January matchup. Frank Lampard will now look for revenge over Marcelo Bielsa who admitted to spying on Derby training before the weekend match, with the former Chelsea midfielder also hoping to turn around the results of the regular season, where Derby was beaten by Leeds twice during the regular season.

Leeds, meanwhile, had aspirations of automatic promotion, but a poor finish to the season saw them fall out of a top-two position with just three wins in their last nine league matches, and more specifically no wins in the final four, with three losses in that span. Bielsa will need to pick the team up, known for his high-intensity managerial style that could be wearing the team out, as the playoff takes no prisoners and bad recent form can be deadly.

Derby County will have plenty of experience at this level, although to this point with nothing to show for it. The club has earned a playoff spot in four of the last six seasons, but have only made it to Wembley once, falling to Queens Park Rangers in the in the 2014 playoff final.

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