Are Leeds cracking under the pressure of the title race?

Stuttering form

Leeds United fell to yet another defeat in the Championship on Tuesday night, losing 1-0 away to Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road.

Questions were already being asked about Marcelo Bielsa’s team in recent weeks, but will only intensify following a loss against a side who prior to their meeting on Tuesday had lost seven games on the bounce, not winning since Boxing Day.

Boxing Day was ironically the day when Leeds’ winning run was extended to seven matches in the Championship, but have since seen their form plummet in comparison.

Leeds have since played 11 games in all competitions, losing six and have managed just four wins in the last two months. Some of those results could prove to be particularly costly come the end of the season.

Losing 3-1 to Norwich City at the beginning of February has given the Canaries the advantage and momentum in the title race heading into the closing week of the season. They have also tasted defeat against promotion hopefuls in Hull and Nottingham Forest, as well as mid-table sides in Stoke City and QPR.

During the first half of the season it seemed as if it was an inevitability that Leeds would win promotion back to the Premier League, but other contenders have had other ideas in the last few months.

Norwich Leeds

Why are they faltering?

It would be negligent to ignore the form of main rivals Norwich City and Sheffield United in the reason for Leeds’ downfall, with both teams being in relentless form over the last few months.

Starting with leaders Norwich, Daniel Farke has seen his team lost just three of their last 29 Championship matches since suffering a 3-0 loss against Leeds at Carrow Road back in August. At that stage of the campaign few anticipated that the Canaries would be in and around the title picture, but they have been in incredible form ever since, winning 18 of their last 29 league outings.

The momentum ceratinly seems to be with the free-scoring Canaries, who are spearheaded by one of the Championship’s most prolific strikers in Teemu Pukki, who has netted 23 league goals this term. Likewise, Sheffield United have been in excellent form and are also lead by one of the most feared forwards in the division in Billy Sharp.

The Blades have lost just once in their previous 11 matches in the Championship, winning eight of those and are currently on a three-match winning streak. Defensively they have also improved, keeping clean sheets in each of their last four victories.

Leeds meanwhile appear to be lacking confidence and are dropping points within games in which they would be expecting to get results from.

‘Spygate’ will also be used as a stick to poke Bielsa with, with the incident putting Leeds under the magnifying glass to the rest of the Championship and making them the villains of the division to a certain extent.

Frank Lampard was left raging at the fact Leeds had been viewing their training sessions in the build-up to their game at Elland Road, with it being a feeling that is likely to be mutual amongst many of the other managers in the Championship. Bielsa admitted to spying on all of their opponents earlier in the season, giving sides an added incentive to beat them in their reverse fixtures in the second half of the campaign.

Leeds United

Running out of steam?

Another thing that will certainly come into question is the amount of work Bielsa puts his team through in training sessions. During pre-season double and triple sessions were the norm, while he has even been known to set up double training sessions during the season.

Bielsa’s philosophy has always been to play a high-energy game, with his teams always pressing relentlessly regardless of who they play against. But just as relentless is the nature of the Championship and sustaining that level of intensity over the course of a 46-game league season is extremely testing.

This is the Argentine’s first season in the Championship, making him a novice to how difficult it can be playing in such a style over the course of a season which has eight more games than he is used to in other divisions.

However, he put those doubts to bed when addressing them in the aftermath of last night’s defeat. "What our team has shown in every game is that we have an excess of energy," he said.

"If you look at the figures you can see that if there is a problem that this team has, it is not a lack of energy.

"It's not an opinion, you just have to look at the figures to draw your own conclusions."

Whatever the issue is, Bielsa must find a solution sooner rather than later before they miss out on an automatic promotion spot which looked destined to be theirs at the start of the campaign.

Leeds United

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