Leeds United vs West Bromwich Albion
Two sides automatically promoted to the Premier League last summer but now with very different endings.
Both have produced Premier League highlights at times but it is only Leeds United who will be gracing English football’s top flight next term, whereas West Bromwich Albion will be returning to the Championship.
Shortly before football was paused in March last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, West Brom were actually ahead of Leeds in the second tier.
A late wobble meant Leeds ended up sauntering to the Championship title and, while West Brom claimed the runners-up spot, they have been up against it from virtually the moment they were promoted.
The team, which suffered its 21st defeat of the campaign with a 3-1 loss at home to West Ham on Wednesday, is 19th in the table, having taken 26 points from 37 games.
With Sam Allardyce standing down after Sunday’s match – he succeeded Slaven Bilic in the role in December – it means another period of uncertainty for the Baggies.
In contrast, Leeds are the most stable they have been for well over a decade and, as principal sponsors, this organisation is particularly delighted by the club’s first season in the top flight for 16 years.
With fans present for the first time since they were promoted, Elland Road should be buoyant on Sunday as their Premier League campaign comes to a close.
Amazingly, until last night, Leeds had a chance of qualifying for Europe next season – something I wasn’t aware of until today – although it would have been staggering if that happened.
That does not detract from their overall campaign and a run of form which, since mid-March, has been impressive. The talk has drifted from celebrating survival to beating Wolves, Aston Villa, mixing it with Arsenal, holding Manchester United and Liverpool and, most notably of all, winning at Manchester City with 10 men.
With 8,000 fans cheering them on this weekend, Raphinha, Patrick Bamford and co could be about to receive a good send-off as 2020/21 draws to a close.
If things had not turned awry four years ago, Allardyce would probably be preparing for his own send-off with the delayed Euro 2020 this summer as manager of England.
Instead, he has suffered his first Premier League relegation with the former Bolton, Newcastle, West Ham and Sunderland boss deciding to call it a day, despite signing an 18-month contract in the Midlands five months ago.
The 66 year-old said he felt unable to commit to Albion for the long term, despite a ‘generous offer to stay’.
In his own words: ‘If I were to stay and achieve promotion next season the expectation would be for me to continue for at least another season and, sadly, that is not a commitment I feel able to make at this stage of my career.’
If this is the last we see of Allardyce in the Premier League – and I sincerely hope it isn’t because he is one of the most underrated managers for a generation – it remains to be seen how long his Leeds counterpart Marcelo Bielsa will hang around either.
Certainly I expect him to be in the Leeds dugout for one more season, given the affection with which he has taken to the club and vice versa.
That will be evident on Sunday afternoon.
This is actually only the fourth ever meeting between the sides in the Premier League.
The first was at the Hawthorns in 2002 when Harry Kewell, Lee Bowyer and Mark Viduka netted in a 3-1 win.
The second was the return game at Elland Road which ended goalless and the third was earlier this campaign when Leeds romped to victory, including a four goal first half salvo, against opponents who had held Liverpool at Anfield just 48 hours earlier and appeared exhausted.
This match last season, played in the Championship, saw Leeds emerge 1-0 victors, thanks to an own goal.
Overall, Leeds have 37 wins, West Brom 33 successes and there have been a further 19 draws.
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