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EFL Championship Playoff Final Preview: Leeds United vs Southampton

Championship playoff final
(Kirby Lee, US PRESSWIRE)

EFL Championship Playoff Final Preview: Leeds United vs Southampton

The English football season comes down to one final match, the EFL Championship playoff final. Leeds United and Southampton will be facing off for the final spot in next season’s Premier League.

The teams will face off at 10 am EST on Sunday from Wembley Stadium in London. 

One of the most draining leagues in Europe has seen Leicester City and Ipswich Town already secure automatic promotion to England’s top league. Leicester bounced right back after being relegated a season ago. Ipswich is far more impressive as they return to the top league for the first time in 22 years and have secured promotion in the second straight season. 

Winning this match will substantially benefit both teams financially since there is a massive difference in money in between the Championship and Premier League. According to an Athletic story, the winner will see a financial increase of around $178 million over the next few seasons. The Championship playoff final has been touted as “the most lucrative prize in football.”

How we got here

These were the top two teams that did not get automatic promotion. Leeds finished in third place with 90 points. They looked set for promotion before winning just one of their final six matches as fans sang “Leeds are Falling Apart Again.” 

Southampton ultimately finished fourth in the league with 87 points. Unlike Leeds, they seemed dead in the water but found a run of success over the final two months. A three-match losing streak ended any hope of automatic promotion and sent “The Saints” marching into the playoffs.

In the two semi-finals, both Leeds and Southampton had similar results over the two legs. Leeds took on Norwich City and drew 0-0 in the first leg on the road. In the second leg, Leeds ran rampant at Elland Road thrashing Norwich 4-0 and looking superb while doing so.

Southampton took on West Brom in the other semifinal. They too drew 0-0 in the first leg on the road before winning 3-1 at home in the second leg. 

What happened this season

As all teams do in the Championship, Leeds and Southampton faced each other twice and this was a very one-sided rivalry. The first meeting came very early in the season at St. Mary’s Stadium in Southampton. In that match, “The Saints” won 3-1 after three first-half goals put it away early. This also sparked a 25-match unbeaten run for Southampton.

The second meeting at Elland Road came on the final day with very little implications. That was clear as neither team looked very good. However, Southampton came away victorious again winning 2-1.

Players to watch

For Southampton, the player to watch is Adam Armstrong. The 27-year-old forward led the team with 23 goals this season. Against Leeds, he scored three of “The Saints” five goals including a brace in the 3-1 win. He also led the team in assists with 12 in 48 matches.

Besides him, Che Adams had a career year scoring 16 goals, the second most in a season for him after 22 goals for Birmingham City during the 2018-19 season. Defensively Southampton has not been too strong allowing 63 goals this season, only Norwich allowed more out of teams in the top nine. 

Leeds has a plethora of attacking options. Whether it’s Crysensio Summerville, Joël Piroe, or Georgino Rutter there has been no lack of scoring options. Summerville and Piroe led the way on the scoring end with 20 and 14 goals respectively. For a lot of the year, Rutter looked like the most expensive signing in Leeds’ 104-year history. The £35.5m ($45.21m) had 12 assists this year leading the team and creating even more chances. 

Arguably the most important player for Leeds will be Ethan Ampadu. The 23-year-old signed for the Yorkshire side over the summer and quickly rose to the status of captain. The Welsh international was superb in the midfield before injuries forced him to switch to centre-back. He and Joe Rodon will be essential if Leeds are to slow down the blazing attack from Armstrong and Adams.

Playoff history

The playoffs have never been kind to either side as neither Leeds nor Southampton have ever been promoted through a playoff in any division. 

Most recently for Southampton, they fell to Derby County in the playoff semifinals in the 2006-07 season. This was their only playoff appearance.

Leeds have had a far harder time in the playoffs. Just like Southampton, “The Whites” fell to Derby in their last appearance also in the semifinals. Before that Leeds lost again in the semifinal in the League 1 playoff against Millwall in 2008-09 a year after they fell to Doncaster Rovers in the playoff final. 

Another blunder was early on following Leeds’ relegation from the Premier League in the 2003-04 season. The 2005-06 Championship playoff final saw Leeds take on Watford with the latter coming away as 3-0 victors.

Prediction

As a Leeds fan since birth, the nerves are absolutely killing me. Clearly, neither team has had any success in the playoffs and that is never a good sign. However, it means that things are set to change. With Southampton having won both matches during the season a third win will be very hard to come by. A managerial battle between Daniel Farke (Leeds) and Russell Martin (Southampton) will be on the cards.

Beating a team three times in a season is very difficult. For that reason and the fact that Leeds finally looked like themselves in the second leg against Norwich, I am leaning towards “The Whites” getting that final spot in the Premier League next season. I am taking Leeds to win a 2-1 thriller.

This will be a great match with a great atmosphere as both teams sold out their more than 36,000 seat allocation. Leeds and Southampton will be in full force come Sunday, but only one will be riding the train home in celebration.

***

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