Automatic promotion looked unlikely for Leeds United back in October, but they could equal a Championship record this weekend following an exceptional run of form. We look at how they’ve turned their season around to become the team to beat.

After ending 2023 with a disappointing run of three defeats in five Championship matches, Leeds United could not have made a better start to 2024.

A run of nine consecutive league wins – equalling a club record that has stood since the day Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein was released in 1931 – has shot Leeds up from fourth place and 17 points behind Leicester City on New Year’s Eve to second and only six points behind them now, following a 3-1 win over the Foxes at a euphoric Elland Road last Friday. Daniel Farke has created a monster of his own, as Leeds continue to impress in their quest for promotion.

Only Reading in 2011-12 (18) have ever been that far behind the table-topping team and gone on to win the Championship title. A 10th successive win in this weekend’s Yorkshire derby at Huddersfield would equal the Championship record since it rebranded in 2004.

Longest Championship Winning Runs

Even if they don’t go on to win the title – which the Opta supercomputer still believes is absolutely in the hands of Leicester City – Leeds are currently predicted to win automatic promotion from the Championship.

That is impressive, considering Leeds were 11 points off second place on 3 October. Only two Championship teams – Sunderland in 2006-07 and Reading in 2011-12 – have ever recovered a deficit as big as 11 points from the automatic promotion spots and finished in the top two, while the most recent side to recover from 10 or more points behind was Farke’s Norwich City in 2018-19.

An Unprecedented Championship Season

The Championship is always known as an incredibly competitive league, but this season has been beyond anything seen previously for sides vying for promotion. Between 2004-05 and 2022-23, only eight teams have had 72 or more points after 34 matches in a Championship season and never more than one in any season. All of those eight teams won the league.

This season, there are three: Leicester (78), Leeds (72) and Ipswich (72). Obviously, at least two of them won’t be winning the title.

The most points any side has had after 34 games in a Championship season without finishing in the top two is 66, by Ipswich in 2004-05 (came third) and Swansea in 2020-21 (fourth). This season, Southampton are currently in fourth place with 67 points, so there are guaranteed to be two sides missing out on the automatic promotion spots with more points at this stage than any other side had done so in Championship history previously.

Most Points without Championship Promotion

Stoke led the Championship table in 2007-08 after 34 matches with just 62 points, which would only be good enough to rank fifth this season, 10 points behind automatic the promotion places. Just think – we may never have seen those Rory Delap throw-ins unsettling the English footballing elite.

Farke Factor

Following relegation from the Premier League, Leeds needed to bounce back quickly. To do that, they needed a coach who could invigorate and motivate a disjointed squad.

In the end, going for the manager who has won two of the most recent five Championship titles seemed like a sensible strategy, and Daniel Farke has endeared himself to Leeds fans in a way that. While not quite coming close to the level of hero worship of Marcelo Bielsa, it feels about as close as it can do without matching that special bond Leeds fans had for three and a half years.

Farke has the best win percentage of any Championship manager since 2004-05 (54%), winning the league in 2018-19 and 2020-21 as Norwich City boss. He is the only manager at this level to have two separate winning runs of nine league victories, doing so in February and March 2021 with Norwich and his current streak with Leeds.

Leeds started this season with just two wins in seven games, but that is a common theme in Farke’s promotion-winning sides. In 2018-19, Norwich won only one of their opening six games, while in 2020-21 they lost two of their first four. It is not how you start, but how you finish, and Farke has history with finishing seasons strongly.

Looking at only the games played between January and May in his last three Championship seasons as a manager, Farke has a win ratio of 70%, winning 38 of 54 games and losing just four times.

It is also interesting to compare the current Farke side to the one that was promoted under Bielsa in 2019-20. Although Bielsa’s side endured different form at this stage of the season to Farke’s current nine-game winning run, it is interesting to see the current Leeds team are 10 points better off than that 2019-20 side were after 34 games, scoring more goals, conceding fewer, having more shots on target and facing fewer, completing more passes and keeping more clean sheets.

Leeds 2019-20 vs 2023-24

Leeds have also been exceptional this season when scoring first, the only Championship side yet to lose when netting the opening goal (W16 D2). This is a record that currently stretches back to 47 Championship games overall, starting with the opening game of the 2019-20 campaign. The last time Leeds lost after scoring first in Championship competition was against Derby County in the 2018-19 playoffs at Elland Road, a chaotic game that still elicits nightmares in the minds of Leeds fans.

Leeds don’t rest when scoring first and sit back, either. They have had 73 more shots than their opponents when ahead in Championship games this season, 42 more than any other side, while their expected goals (xG) differential when winning is 15.5, which is again the most. Looking at it on a per-90 basis, Leeds are accumulating 0.93 xG more than their opponents when ahead, more than anyone else in the league.

Points Lost from Leads 2023-24 Championship

It is not only when scoring first that Leeds are formidable – only Ipswich Town (25) have gained more points from losing positions than they have (20).

The 2023-24 campaign is the first in which Leeds have conceded first in as many as six league games and then come back to win since 1999-00 in the Premier League (also six), when they finished as a third-best team in England.

Farke’s team are also the only side to have a positive goal difference in Championship games in which they’ve conceded first (scored 23, conceded 22), a mentality that should serve them well in the final part of the season.

The Perfect Pairing

In Georginio Rutter and Crysencio Summerville, Leeds United possess two of the most creative players in the Championship.

No player has created more chances than Summerville this season (90), while only two have created more open-play chances than Rutter (70). Rutter also sits joint-top for assists (12), top for open-play assists (12), and second for big chances created (20), while the player in joint-third for the latter is Summerville (16). Rutter is also the only Championship player on record aged 21 or younger to assist as many as 12 open-play goals in a season since the competition rebranded in 2004.

It’s not just their individual stats that are impressive, their partnership is among the best ever seen at this level. So far in 2023-24, they have combined for seven goals, the joint most of any Championship duo.

Since Opta began recording detailed Championship data in 2013-14, they are the only duo on record to create 25+ chances for each other in a single season (28 from Rutter to Summerville, 25 the other way).

With 12 matches left to play in 2023-24, it seems inconceivable that Rutter and Summerville won’t surpass the overall league record in that period, currently held by Ollie Watkins and Saïd Benrahma at Brentford in 2019-20 (57). Amazingly, that season saw just one of those 57 chances created between the pairing converted into a goal.

Rutter and Summerville Partnership Leeds

The volume at which they are creating chances is also worth highlighting. The Benrahma/Watkins link-up in 2019-20 saw them create one every 67 minutes for each other. Summerville and Rutter are doing so once every 44 minutes.

Among duos to play at least 2,000 minutes alongside one another in a Championship season, it is the best ratio of any duo. The next best also came under Farke, between James Maddison and Nélson Oliveira in 2017-18 at Norwich (one every 55 minutes).

Since the first match they started alongside one another in September, Leeds have won more points than any other side in the Championship (67). How they wish they’d have had a full August of those two linking up.

Bamford’s Return to Form

Since the turn of 2024, Leeds are the Championship’s top scorers with 22 goals, they have accumulated the highest expected goals total (18.7) and have the third-best shot conversion rate (16%).

A big part of that impressive record is down to the form of Patrick Bamford. Only two players have more goals in the division in 2024 than Bamford’s five, while in all competitions the one-cap England striker has as many goals this year (six in 10 games) as he managed in 2022 and 2023 combined (six in 50 games).

Patrick Bamford Form for Leeds

It has been an unexpected renaissance for Bamford. He made 16 appearances in Leeds’ first 25 league games this season but none of those came in the starting XI. He failed to score in any of those matches and even missed a crucial late penalty against Stoke with the score at 0-0 – a game that Leeds eventually lost by a single goal. Not only that, but it was his third consecutive missed penalty for the club. Patience was running thin throughout the Leeds fanbase.  

Few would have gambled on Bamford scoring Leeds’ first competitive goal of 2024, but he did just that with his strike against Birmingham, which he then followed up with arguably the club’s goal of the season in the FA Cup win at Peterborough – the only one of Leeds’ last 48 competitive goals to have been scored from outside the box.

Defensive Solidarity

After a shambolically bad defensive showing last season in the Premier League, where they conceded the most goals of any side (78), Leeds have turned their defensive form around following relegation.

They’ve conceded the fewest goals (27), faced the fewest shots (313), fewest shots on target (85), and fewest big chances (35), and also have the lowest expected goals against total (28.5) in the entire division. They have also restricted their opponents to under 10 shots in 19 different Championship matches this season, five more than any other side. With 15 clean sheets, it’s their most at this stage of a league season since 2009-10 under Simon Grayson (also 15).

The change made in 2024, which saw Joe Rodon and Ethan Ampadu paired in the heart of defence, has led to impressive returns.

Since then, they haven’t conceded a single goal from open play in league competition, with the only two conceded coming via a free-kick and a corner. They are the only side in England’s top four tiers yet to concede a league goal from open play in 2024.

Leeds Defence in 2024

A New Midfield Pairing

Although Leeds started the season with Ampadu in the centre of midfield, injuries in Leeds’ defence led to the Welshman dropping into a deeper role, leaving a spot available for someone else to partner Glen Kamara.

After playing just 226 minutes and starting only two of Leeds’ first 26 Championship matches this season, Ilia Gruev has slotted into their midfield as if he’s been there for years.

The Bulgarian – whose father once played against England at Wembley in a European Championship qualifier in 1998 – has featured in each of Leeds’ last eight league games and misplaced only 33 passes across those matches. Indeed, in the Championship overall this season, two of the four most efficient central-midfield passers are Kamara (93.4%, third best) and Gruev (93.1%, fourth best).

Passing Accuracy Championship Midfielders

Kamara and Gruev have started alongside one another in eight games this season and Leeds have won all eight matches, conceding just twice and scoring 18 times while both have been on the pitch. The numbers are even more pronounced when just including Kamara – Leeds have won 79% of their games with him starting XI this season, compared to 30% without him.

Kamara, who was a 2022 UEFA Europa League finalist with Rangers, also recently became the first Championship midfielder that Opta has on record to complete 95% of his passes in seven consecutive Championship appearances.

Trust in Youth

Only Sunderland have named a younger starting XI on average in the Championship this season than Leeds (24 years, 100 days) and only three teams have handed more games (130) and minutes (7,847) to players aged 21 or younger.

It’s in attack, however, that Leeds’ youthful squad have impressed the most. Overall, 38 of their Championship goals this season (18 goals, 20 assists) have seen players aged 21 or under directly involved – more than any other side.

The excellence of Rutter and Summerville have played a crucial part in this record, but the recent form of Wilfried Gnonto – an outcast earlier in the season after his refusal to play for the club – has been a welcome addition. He scored five competitive goals in February for Leeds, the first player under 21 years old to score that often in a single month for the club since Robbie Keane in January 2001.

As good as Rutter, Summerville and Gnonto have been, it’s the breakout season enjoyed by Archie Gray that’s evoked the most joy among the Leeds faithful.

Gray, whose father Andy, grandfather Frank and great-uncle Eddie played over 1,000 matches combined for Leeds, recently became the youngest member of that footballing dynasty to score for the club. He netted the second goal against Leicester when aged 17 years and 348 days, just one day younger than Eddie was when scoring against Sheffield Wednesday on New Year’s Day in 1966.

Gray is the only player in the club’s history to start 30 league games in a season before turning 18 (between 2005-06 and 2022-23, players under the age of 18 started just 28 league matches combined for Leeds) and only the fifth to do so in a Championship season. Two of the previous four went on to play for Real Madrid – Gareth Bale and Jude Bellingham.

Youngest Championship Starters in a Season

Although usually deployed in midfield, Gray has played the majority of this season at right-back following the departure of Luke Ayling, making the most tackles (71) of any player at the club, and ranking second for possession won (159) among his teammates in 2023-24. Gray has continued to start at right-back despite the loan arrival of Connor Roberts who started 39 games for champions Burnley last season, which is a testament to Farke’s faith in the 17-year-old.

Marching On to the Premier League?

Leeds’ win over Leicester last Friday night has seen their chances of automatic promotion from the Championship rise from 58.8% to 71.6% with the Opta supercomputer.

Championship Promotion Odds Feb 2024

Since the turn of the year, Leeds have won the most points in the Championship, collecting all 27 possible across the nine matches. Ipswich have done well, too; they’ve won the second most in this period alongside rivals Norwich City, but their points tally is still nine fewer than Leeds in that timeframe.

With Leicester and Ipswich facing tricky away trips to Sunderland and Plymouth respectively in the next week, Leeds’ chances could improve further.

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