The playoff stages of the EFL Championship kick off this weekend with Derby County set to take on Leeds United in one of the semi-finals on Saturday evening.

After a season-long toil, just three more matches stand in the way of Derby County and Leeds United in their pursuit of a promotion back to the Premier League. The two teams will clash against each other this weekend in the first leg of their Championship playoff semi-final at the Pride Park Stadium.

It has been quite the season for Derby County, managed by Chelsea legend Frank Lampard. In what was the former England international’s first-ever managerial job, he has done a sterling job of leading the Rams to a sixth-place finish in the English second division, on the final day of the league, beating Middlesbrough and Bristol City in the race.

Derby County are on a six-game unbeaten run (W4 D2) heading into the playoffs, with their most recent fixture ending in a 3-1 victory over fellow semi-finalists West Bromwich Albion. Having not played in the Premier League since 2007-08 and having faltered in the playoffs last season, the Rams will be gunning for a home win this weekend.

Leeds United, on the other hand, will have been disappointed not to have sealed an automatic promotion back to the Premier League, having spent most parts of the season as the Championship leaders. Marcelo Bielsa’s debut season has been quite an eventful one, but the Chilean failed to guide the Whites to a top-two finish, after a poor run of results towards the end of the campaign.

The Yorkshire-based outfit have failed to register a victory in their last four outings (D1 L3), with their latest fixture ending in a disappointing 3-2 defeat against Ipswich Town. However, they have beaten the Rams in both their meetings this season and will be confident of getting the job done once again as they aim to take a step closer to a Premier League return for the first time since 2004.

Team News & Tactics

Derby County

Lampard will be in search of his managerial win against Leeds (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Lampard will be in search of his first managerial win against Leeds United. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Striker Martyn Waghorn and midfielder Duane Holmes were both forced off the pitch during the match against West Brom at the weekend. The duo will be assessed, with Lampard set to take a late call on their availability. Craig Bryson and Ashley Cole have both been ruled out, along with long-term absentees Marcus Olsson, Craig Forsyth and Curtis Davies.

Lampard will set his team up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Kelle Roos lining up between the sticks. The experienced Richard Keogh will pair up with Chelsea loanee Fikayo Tomori at the heart of the Derby County defence, while promising youngster Jayden Bogle will start at right-back, with Scott Malone on the opposite side.

Seasoned campaigner Bradley Johnson will line up at the base of the midfield for the Rams, while on-loan Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount should provide the forward thrust and creativity from the centre of the park. Holmes is expected to shake off his injury to start on Saturday, although Lampard has Tom Huddlestone as an alternative, should that not turn out to be the case.

Liverpool’s on-loan attacker Harry Wilson has been a key figure in Derby’s promotion push this term and should feature on the right flank, while Tom Lawrence is a guaranteed starter on the opposite side. Waghorn’s injury could pave way for either Jack Marriott or David Nugent to start as the lone striker, although the former is likely to be preferred.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Roos; Bogle, Keogh, Tomori, Malone; Holmes, Johnson, Mount; Wilson, Marriott, Lawrence

Leeds United

Will Bielsa's genius fire Leeds to promotion? (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Will Bielsa’s genius fire Leeds to promotion? (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Leeds United will be without the services of striker Patrick Bamford, who spent time on loan at Derby County early in his career, due to suspension. The Whites will also have to make do without Tyler Roberts, while Barry Douglas and Ezgjan Alioski are also unavailable. Defensive mainstay Pontus Jansson is also a doubt with an ankle injury.

Former Real Madrid custodian Kiko Casilla will man the goal for the Whites on Saturday. Club captain Liam Cooper is a certain starter at the heart of the defence, while Jansson is expected to shake off his injury to partner him. Luke Ayling is the obvious choice at right-back while Stuart Dallas is likely to continue at left-back, having scored in the last game against Ipswich.

Kalvin Phillips will line up as the defensive midfielder, shielding his backline against the threat of Mason Mount from the Derby midfield, while Adam Forshaw will provide a more of a box-to-box presence for the visitors. Matuesz Klich, who has 10 goals this season, will take up another central midfield slot and look to influence the proceedings in the final third.

Veteran Pablo Hernandez should slot in on the right wing, while the left side should see Jack Harrison retain his place in the team ahead of teenage speedster Jack Clarke. With no Bamford available, Kemar Roofe is set to spearhead the attack for Bielsa’s side.

Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Casilla; Ayling, Jansson, Cooper, Dallas; Phillips; Hernandez, Forshaw, Klich, Harrison; Roofe

Key Stats

  • Leeds United got the better of Derby County on both occasions during the 2018-19 EFL Championship campaign. The last time they did the double against the Rams in a single league campaign was way back in 2001-02, when both sides were in the Premier League.
  • This will be the fifth instance that Leeds United will be contesting in a Football League playoff. The Whites have never been able to secure promotion via the playoff stages, with their most recent venture ending in a defeat to Millwall in the League One playoffs in 2008-09 season.
  • Derby County will be contesting their eighth Championship playoff – most by any side. However, the Rams have managed to earn promotion on just one of the previous seven attempts.
  • Leeds United striker Kemar Roofe scored in both the fixtures against Derby County in the 2018-19 campaign, including a brace at the Pride Park Stadium.
  • Derby County have managed to win just one of their last four home matches against Leeds United (D1 L2).

Player to Watch

Harry Wilson

Rams' main man (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Rams’ main man (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

The 22-year-old Liverpool forward has excelled in his loan spell with the Rams this season. In 46 matches across all competitions, Wilson has come up with impressive returns of 17 goals and 5 assists. He was on the scoresheet and set up one more goal in the final league game against West Bromwich Albion, that fired Derby to the playoffs.

While his attacking capabilities were never of doubt, Wilson has caught the eye this season with his off-the-ball work rate and defensive contribution. Predominantly featuring as a right-sided winger, the Welshman has done a brilliant job when fielded in the No. 8 role by Frank Lampard as well, adding another string to his bow.

Leeds United, among a number of clubs, have reportedly made an enquiry about the possibility of signing him next summer and a strong performance on Saturday should only increase his suitors’ resolve to land him ahead of the upcoming campaign.

Prediction

Derby County 2-1 Leeds United

Derby County have momentum on their side, as they head into the game on the back of a strong six-game unbeaten run. Leeds, though, have lost three of their last four matches and find themselves under pressure, having let go of a great chance to earn automatic promotion to the Premier League.

It promises to be a captivating encounter at the Pride Park, with the spygate incident that took place earlier in the season, set to add more intrigue and edge to the contest.

Leeds have defeated Derby on two occasions this term, but recent games have shown that they are prone to defensive lapses, which the Rams could capitalise on. With form on their side, coupled with their opposition’s struggles at the back of late, we at The Hard Tackle are backing Frank Lampard’s men to clinch a win and take a step towards the playoff finals.