Leeds United having the last laugh over Derby County as courage of convictions wins out
Leeds United may currently be in a tricky patch of form, but their long-term plan has won out over a recent rival.
Since the disappointment of the play-off semi-final defeat to Derby County in 2019, the two clubs have been on very different paths. Leeds’ trajectory has been upward, into the Premier League, while the Rams have found themselves plummeting towards the third tier.
Following the sacking of Derby boss Phillip Cocu, with the club rooted at the foot of the Championship table, it finally proves that Leeds’ long-term plan was worth sticking by.
It also shows Derby’s short-lived success and celebrations at Elland Road were in vain considering they now face an extremely difficult task in pulling clear of the drop.
Derby’s 4-2 win over Leeds at Elland Road in May 2019 proved to be Frank Lampard’s penultimate game in charge. The current Chelsea manager left his post at Pride Park for the top job at Stamford Bridge, leaving the club with something of a reset over the summer in light of their eventual defeat in the Play-off final.
Leeds were faced with a similar task, albeit one week earlier; to start again from scratch. While Derby appointed Dutch icon Phillip Cocu, Leeds stuck by Marcelo Bielsa and his group of players, made smart additions to the playing squad and set about returning to the top flight.
They managed just that, not even requiring the agony and uncertainty of the play-off route to the Premier League, eventually romping to the Championship title.
Meanwhile in the East Midlands, discontent fostered under Cocu who saw Wayne Rooney added to his squad, and a throng of young players make their debuts. Ultimately, results on the pitch saw them struggle to replicate the form which clinched them a Play-off Final berth the previous year.
Leeds supporters had the last laugh as they finally ended their top flight exile, while Derby finished mid-table. The two clubs’ contrasting trajectories has only been accentuated further at the beginning of this season. While nine places separated the pair at the end of last year, that figure now stands at 28 spots between the two in the league standings.
It is an endorsement of Bielsa more than anything, that his strategy and diligence may not have been immediately successful, but it has proved to be a winning formula over the relatively short span of two-and-a-half years in charge.
Regardless of how Leeds’ season goes this year, with many and peaks and troughs still to come, Derby County’s recent history should serve as a cautionary tale and a fine opportunity to take stock of all Leeds have achieved.
May 15th 2019 was a sore evening for Leeds fans as images of Frank Lampard and the Derby County players leaked from inside the away dressing room, mocking Leeds’ chant about Lampard’s complaints over ‘Spygate’.
However, with Cocu’s sacking and the club languishing at the foot of a division Leeds outgrew, the last laugh has been had by those same United fans.