Leeds United face a do-or-die fight in their battle against relegation as they take on Brentford in the Premier League on Sunday.

It was 18 years ago when Leeds United suffered the heartbreak of being relegated from the English top flight. It proved to be a pivotal moment in the club’s history as they were condemned to the second tier of English football for the next 16 years.

A similar fall could be on the cards should they fail to stave off the drop on Sunday. The trip to Brentford will not be easy, but the equation as far as Leeds are concerned is clear. Jesse Marsch’s men are currently 18th in the table level on points with 17th-placed Burnley. The Clarets have a much superior goal difference meaning Leeds do not control their own destiny.

The Whites have to outdo Burnley on the final matchday to guarantee their top-flight status. A win could also prove to be insignificant should the Clarets beat Newcastle United at home.

Brentford have little to play for but will be expected to put up a real fight on the night. Thomas Frank’s side have been in good form of late and could potentially finish tenth if results go their way. They will be keen to send their fans off on a high in what has been a memorable debut campaign in the Premier League.

Leeds cannot afford to let their guard down and will need to be at their best with everything on the line. It promises to be a thrilling end to the Premier League campaign with still much to play for. Whether Leeds will be one of the teams to celebrate come full-time remains to be seen.

The Hard Tackle looks at how the two teams will line up on the night and what tactics they might employ.

Brentford

With six wins from the last seven games, Thomas Frank’s side have seen themselves pull away from the relegation dogfight and are now in contention for a top-half finish. Midfielder Frank Onyeka is a doubt for the game, despite having returned to training. The same cannot be said for Ethan Pinnock, who is all but ruled out.

Saman Ghoddos and Mathias Jorgensen are also doubts for the game, and it remains to be seen if they will make the cut. Mads Bech Sorensen could find his place in the starting XI under threat after being taken off at half-time against Everton.

Frank is likely to deploy his side in a 4-3-3 formation and will be keen to begin the game on the front foot. David Raya will start in goal behind a back four of Rico Henry, Vitaly Janelt, Pontus Jansson and Kristoffer Ajer.

Christian Norgaard will start in central midfield and will be tasked with keeping Kalvin Phillips quiet. Keeping the Englishman silent will hand Brentford the initiative in the middle of the park. Mathias Jensen and Christian Eriksen will add numbers for the Bees alongside Norgaard with the former Tottenham man, in particular, responsible for kickstarting attacks.

Eriksen’s ability to not just carry the ball forward but also make decisive passes could prove pivotal for Brentford. This is especially the case given that the front three of Yoane Wissa, Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo appear to have regained their goalscoring mojo. Unlike Leeds, Brentford are a much more settled outfit with a clear game plan. They are especially a force to be reckoned with at home and will not make Leeds’ difficult task any easier.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Raya; Henry, Janelt, Jansson, Ajer; Eriksen, Norgaard, Jensen; Wissa, Toney, Mbeumo

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Leeds United

Thanks to their horrible goal difference of -38, Leeds go into the game with a major handicap. The most they can do is secure three points, but it will not be easy. Jesse Marsch’s job is made all the more difficult thanks to the unavailability of Daniel James and Luke Ayling. The former is suspended while the latter recently underwent knee surgery.

To add to Leeds’ concerns, Stuart Dallas, Crysencio Summerville, Adam Forshaw and Tyler Roberts are also unavailable. Thankfully it is not all bad news as Robin Koch and Patrick Bamford could return to action, even if it’s off the bench. The Whites look set to go ahead with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Illan Meslier will start in goal behind a back four of Junior Firpo, Liam Cooper, Diego Llorente and Robin Koch.

The double-pivot of Kalvin Phillips and Mateusz Klich will have a key role to play on Sunday, and their performance could help dictate Leeds’ fortunes. Gaining the foothold in midfield will hand the trio of Jack Harrison, Rodrigo and Raphinha the freedom to push forward.

Joe Gelhardt is likely to start upfront while Bamford could come off the bench in the second half. Marsch will need his midfield to turn up on the night and shield what has been a rather porous Leeds backline. Given Brentford’s marauding attack, that is a task easier said than done.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Meslier; Firpo, Cooper, Llorente, Koch; Phillips, Klich; Harrison, Rodrigo, Raphinha; Gelhardt

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Key Stats

  • Brentford have not lost a home game against Leeds United in the league since 1950. They are currently on a 10-match unbeaten streak.
  • Leeds have a decent record against the Bees in recent meetings, losing just one of the last six league games.
  • A win will see Brentford become the first team since 2011 to win their final game of the league season in their debut Premier League campaign.
  • The last time Leeds United lost the final game of their league season was in 2003/04, the season when they were relegated.
  • Leeds have been relegated from the top flight on six occasions, including once in the Premier League era in 2003-04.

Player to watch

Raphinha

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The Brazilian international is easily Leeds’s most dynamic player. He is the most likely to make anything happen for the visitors in attack and could make or break Leeds’s fortunes. There is no better time than now for Raphinha to show his worth to the Elland Road outfit. The 25-year has more goal contributions than any other player in a Leeds jersey this season, and the time is ripe for him to add to the tally.

Raphinha can own the flank and can take the game to the opposition with his direct approach. Leeds need him to step up, and it remains to be seen if he will live up to expectations in what could be his last appearance for the Whites.

Prediction

Brentford 2-1 Leeds United

While Leeds have a lot to play for, they are woefully off form and have struggled to raise their game in recent weeks. Travelling away to Brentford is no easy task, and there is every reason to believe that the afternoon could end in heartbreak for the Jesse Marsch’s side.

There is little reason for the Bees to lower their guard and they will be keen to give their fans something to cheer about. As things stand, it is difficult to see anything other than a Brentford win on Sunday.

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