A big step forward psychologically?
A draw would take Leeds United to 30 points, but a win takes them to 32 and, arguably, one more win from safety. It’s been 12 years since the traditional 40 points were needed to survive relegation from the Premier League.
Over the last 10 seasons, the average total needed for survival was 35 points. Hitting the 30s in early April would be a major psychological breakthrough for the Whites.
With nine teams still realistically scrapping to avoid the drop, it’s impossible for them all to keep picking points up as they play one another. Take three directly from Crystal Palace today, then another three directly from Leicester City or Bournemouth at the end of the month and the table has to start looking rosier.
Hitting 32 points to put Leeds within sniffing distance of average safety mark might finally allow some in California to look ahead on what their next moves will be if United stay up.
Does Ayling keep his place?
Luke Ayling’s leadership and mental attributes cannot be doubted on the field, but for the past four matches in a row, he has looked like the team’s weak link. The poorly executed clearing header on Tuesday night let Nottingham Forest in, while Gabriel Martinelli, Daniel Podence and Kaoru Mitoma have all given the right-back a nightmare time.
Rasmus Kristensen, so heavily praised by Javi Gracia in recent weeks, has to be a consideration for the head coach. Is it the Dane’s turn or is Ayling’s armband too important?
Cooper’s wait to go on?
Talking of armbands, what about the club’s captain Liam Cooper? The question marks against Arsenal and Forest seem to have dissipated somewhat.
Pascal Struijk was fine last weekend at Arsenal and a lot better than fine on Tuesday night. Providing the 23-year-old has recovered as well as you would expect, there is little reason to pull the Dutchman out of the backline on this week’s evidence.
Room for Gnonto?
Wilfried Gnonto’s surprise inclusion on Tuesday’s bench has opened the door for him starting this weekend. Assuming the Italian has not suffered any adverse reactions to this week’s training, the exciting forward will want to start against Palace.
Unfortunately for Gnonto, Jack Harrison and Luis Sinisterra have sewn up their starting berths with supreme showings in the week. Brenden Aaronson has started every league game for Gracia up to now, but he is the most vulnerable in that front four.
Could Gnonto or Rodrigo steal that second striker berth from the American today?
Keep pace with Marsch?
As poor as the overall picture was left to look under Jesse Marsch when he was eventually sacked, he actually picked up just as many points from his opening six matches in charge as Gracia has. The Spaniard has won plaudits for his impressive return of 10 points from 18, but Marsch took the same despite defeats to Leicester City and Aston Villa at the start.
Those losses were followed by wins over Norwich City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Watford, alongside a draw with Southampton. Coincidentally, Marsch’s seventh league game at the helm was also against Palace, which the team drew at Selhurst Park.
So, Gracia needs a draw to keep pace or a win to improve on Marsch’s first seven league games as boss. The manner in which the respective head coaches assembled those points could not have been more different, it has to be said.