With both promotion and the Championship title having already been secured, Leeds United head to Pride Park in euphoric mood. Jack Critchley previews the game...
"Leeds don't have a brilliant record when travelling to top ten sides, with Swansea and Bristol City the only two sides that have failed to take anything from the game when hosting the Whites"
Derby v Leeds
Sunday July 19, 14:00
Error-prone Derby set for another season of Championship football
At the beginning of the month, Phillip Cocu's Derby County looked almost certain to gatecrash the top six, however, three defeats on the spin have consigned them to yet another season in the second tier.
Although this campaign will inevitably end in disappointment for the Rams, many fans have enjoyed the progress that has been made under the Dutchman and with younger players such as Lee Buchanan, Jason Knight and Louie Sibley having become regular starters over the last few months, the former PSV boss is clearly putting the building blocks in place ahead of next season.
Mistakes have proven costly in recent weeks with Ben Hamer's errant handling gifting Brentford a soft goal last weekend, followed by two midweek missteps which enabled play-off chasers Cardiff City to secure all three points on Tuesday evening.
Derby have enjoyed plenty of success against teams below them in the Championship table, winning 10 of their 13 home encounters with sides currently sat 12th or below. However, they've so far been unable to match the top-half sides at Pride Park, accruing just five points from a possible 21 against top eight opposition.
Promoted Leeds aiming to finish in style
West Brom's unexpected defeat at the John Smith's Stadium confirmed Leeds' promotion back to the Premier League on Friday evening. After 16 years spent outside of the top flight, the West Yorkshire outfit have finally returned to the top tier, and after falling at the final hurdle twelve months ago (against Derby), this will feel even sweeter for both the players and supporters.
Kalvin Phillips and captain Liam Cooper were quick to pay tribute to head coach Marcelo Bielsa, whose hard work and tactical nous has finally helped Leeds return to the top table. Although the Argentine was typically understated in his celebrations, the majority of the squad are likely to have enjoyed a tipple or two over the course of the weekend.
As a result, Leeds' odds on the Exchange have drifted, and Bielsa's men can now be backed at 2.486/4 to take all three points from this encounter. They don't have a brilliant record when travelling to top 10 sides, with Swansea and Bristol City the only two sides that have failed to take anything from the game when hosting the Whites.
Furthermore, they looked a little weary on Thursday evening against Barnsley, and despite taking all three points, they were comprehensively outshot 12-6 by the relegation-threatened Tykes.
With the aforementioned Kalvin Phillips ruled out for the remaining two games, Bielsa is likely to push Ben White into midfield once again, with Gaetano Berardi also likely to keep his place in the XI. Although some fans have suggested that the likes of Jamie Shackleton and Ian Carlo Poveda may be given a chance to impress from the start, the boss' stubborn streak and penchant for maintaining a winning team would suggest otherwise.
Leeds will undoubtedly need to strengthen ahead of next season, although Bielsa's attention to detail and high intensity game plan is likely to take a few Premier League sides by surprise next season. With upgrades needed in the striking department, the club are already likely to be putting plans in place ahead of their long-awaited return to the top flight.
Drifting Whites may be worth opposing
The lengthening of the visitors' odds is likely to be nothing more than an overreaction, and although i'm stopping short of backing the leaders here, I'd prefer to keep them on side. Last season, Norwich still managed to pick up all three points following confirmation of their promotion, whilst Premier League-bound Sheffield United played out an entertaining 2-2 draw with Stoke on the final day.
Bielsa is a experienced coach, who demands plenty from his players, and he is unlikely to allow standards to slip on Sunday. Derby have only won one of their last five encounters with the former Athletic Bilbao coach, and that run may continue here.
Backing the draw at 3.3512/5 could be the best option in this one.
Both sides likely to find the back of the net
Derby's recent fixtures have been extremely entertaining with their last four Championship outings producing 11 goals. They've only failed to find the net twice at Pride Park this season, and although their play-off challenge has slowly fizzled out, they are unlikely to end the campaign without a fight.
Leeds' squad may be a little jaded, and we can probably expect a slow start to this one. Although backing the second half to be the highest scoring half at Evens on the Sportsbook looks like a decent alternative, taking BTTS on the Exchange at 1.715/7 certainly looks tempting here.
Although Leeds' defence is one of the best in the business, the absence of Phillips makes things tougher, and with just one away clean sheet against top half opposition this campaign, I'm expecting each side to get on the scoresheet on Sunday afternoon.
Back Draw at 3.55/2
Back BTTS at 1.715/7