EFL Championship

Leeds v Southampton: Unders the angle at Wembley

The Championship play-off final at Wembley is dubbed the most valuable match in world football

Leeds and Southampton clash at Wembley for a place in the Premier League on Sunday in the Championship play-off final. Betfair writer Mark O'Haire is anticipating a tight tussle...

Leeds v Southampton
Sunday May 26, 15:00
Live on Sky Sports

Leeds the top-rated Championship team

Leeds started the campaign as 7/18.00 second favourites to clinch top Championship honours. The Whites' end-of-season 90-point haul would also have seen the Yorkshire giants win automatic promotion in four of the past six Championship seasons, but a rotten late run saw Daniel Farke's side fall out of top-two contention and into the play-offs.

After playing out a tense 0-0 draw with Norwich in the semi-final first leg, Leeds emphatically secured their place at Wembley with a 4-0 thrashing of the Canaries at Elland Road. Goals from Ilia Gruev, Joel Piroe, Georginio Rutter, and Crysencio Summerville capped a commanding performance and highlighted the attacking prowess available to Farke.

The Whites will hope to overcome the club's play-off hoodoo on Sunday, having been unsuccessful in their last five attempts of promotion via the play-offs, although Leeds were the highest-rated side according to the underlying metrics across the regular Championship season, posting league-high Expected Points (xP) and Expected Goals (xG) returns.

Meanwhile, Farke will be without long-term absentee Pascal Struijk due to a groin injury, but Patrick Bamford might return from his knee issue. Despite the retirement of Stuart Dallas in April, the squad remains relatively healthy with Connor Roberts and Dan James also available for selection with Leeds unlikely to make major changes from their last outing.

Match Preview

Leeds - Southampton
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Southampton a threat in forward areas

Southampton were chalked up as 15/28.50 third favourites in the ante-post title betting for the Championship and it took the Saints a while to get going under Russell Martin. The south coast club lost half of their opening eight league encounters but impressively recovered, picking up the joint-most points over the last 38 fixtures (W23-D8-L7).

Martin's men were held to a goalless draw in their play-off semi-final first leg against West Brom yet flexed their muscles back at St Mary's to book their place at Wembley. Southampton ran out impressive 3-1 victors against the Baggies, thanks to a brace from top goalscorer Adam Armstrong and a strike from Will Smallbone.

Saints ranked third for both Expected Points (xP) and Expected Goals (xG) during the regular Championship season, though Southampton did boast the best non-penalty xG (npxG) output across the campaign. However, the Solent side were difficult to trust from a defensive perspective, managing only six shutouts on their travels this term.

Nevertheless, the return of Che Adams is a significant boost, whilst Armstrong remains a constant threat despite a minor injury scare, and Ross Stewart is expected to be available, adding to Saints' eye-catching attacking options. However, Southampton will be without goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, as well as Juan Larios, and Stuart Armstrong due to injury here.

Whites fair favourites at Wembley

Southampton enjoyed the edge over Leeds during the regular league season - the two teams met for the second time on the final day of the season in what had been billed as a potential automatic promotion decider, but as it turned out, Saints' top two hopes had been ended by then and Leeds only had a slim chance of beating Ipswich to second place.

The Saints had lost their previous three league games before the trip to Elland Road, but they came away with a 2-1 victory, with goals from Stuart Armstrong and Will Smallbone either side of Joel Piroe's equaliser sealing all three points. That success followed on from an impressive 3-1 victory over Leeds at St Mary's way back at the end of September.

Leeds 2.427/5 are well respected due to their superior performance data, plus the potential of their high-calibre forwardline clicking into gear. However, Daniel Farke's charges have tabled only 11 triumphs in 24 away days in Championship action this season and are best left alone at the prices considering the high-pressure environment of a play-off final.

Bar rotten results against the top-two, Southampton 3.309/4 tended to perform particularly well against fellow top-half teams this term and Saints are interesting outsiders here. Saints are backable with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap market here at 1.9010/11, though a smarter selection is the Draw 3.45 considering the tight nature of Wembley finals.

Unders the best angle of attack

It's dubbed the most valuable match in world football - promotion to the Premier League will boost the winners' coffers by at least £170m - and the magnitude of the match can often cripple clubs on their big day at Wembley. Perhaps unsurprisingly with so much at stake, Championship play-off finals are rarely high-scoring affairs.

Since the famous Sunderland 4-4 Charlton play-off final 26 years ago, 17 (68%) Championship curtain-closers have reached the 90 minute mark with fewer than three goals - 52% of those 25 encounters produced no more than a solitary strike, including seven of the most recent 11.

Meanwhile, only six of the past 23 finals have paid out for Both Teams To Score backers, potentially highlighting the value in going against the grain and opposing goals. With that in mind, I'm happy to back Under 2.5 Goals here at [1.97] with the odds implying just a 51% chance of a low-goal game despite the rarity of a Championship play-off final shootout.

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