Leeds United's trip to Newcastle could define their season

Ross Jackson
Leeds clash with Newcastle is a must-win game
Leeds clash with Newcastle is a must-win game / Pool/Getty Images

Of the three sides promoted to the Premier League last season, two of them are staring well and truly down the barrel of relegation.

Despite pressing the Sam Allardyce panic button over a month ago, West Brom remain six points adrift of safety, with Scott Parker's Fulham side just a point nearer to survival.

Leeds are struggling of late
Leeds are struggling of late / Pool/Getty Images

So then, of the 2019/20 Championship alumni, the only side currently in the top tier who seem to be prospering is Leeds United - 11 points above the drop zone, comfortably sat in mid-table with a striker just three goals off the pace setter in the race for this season's Golden Boot.

Take a bow Leeds, it seems many of your fanbase who predicated a potential European place in your maiden season back in the big time weren't too far off.

Oh how the Yorkshiremen wish this were true.

If a team was credited with a point every time a pundit described them as a 'breath off fresh air' (regardless of whether they're getting absolutely torn to shreds at the time or not) Marcelo Bielsa's side would be on course to usurp Pep Guardiola's 'Centurions' of 2017/18.

Unfortunately, there's no prizes for playing attacking football alone - ask everyone's former favourite attacking side Blackpool who slipped from the Premier League to League Two in just five years - and Leeds are in grave danger of being dragged into a relegation fight if they don't pick up three points against Newcastle.

Since Bielsa took the reins at Elland Road, momentum has been key to their success. His high intensity style of play clearly takes its tole on players as the season wears on, but when your team's winning it's much easier to put in the hard yards.

However, for all the impressive winning streaks Leeds have mastered since the Argentinian taskmaster's arrival, their collapses have been just as dramatic, and their current winless run of three games - including defeats to a struggling Brighton side and League Two Crawley - has all the hallmarks of the beginning of another Leeds car crash.

But it's not all doom and gloom - if Bielsa could hand pick one team in the league to play next it would be Newcastle.

The Magpies are in a state of disarray at the moment - ten without a win in all competitions, pressure mounting on Steve Bruce so much that they've banned newspapers from asking questions in his press conferences, Mike Ashley's departure seeming like a distant dream and reports the club won't be sanctioning any new arrivals this transfer window.

Steve Bruce's Newcastle are another side struggling for form
Steve Bruce's Newcastle are another side struggling for form / Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Coupled with the fact Leeds taught them a footballing lesson earlier this season in their 5-2 demolition of Bruce's men, this fixture couldn't have come at a better time for Bielsa's men. Yet with expectancy comes pressure, and if Leeds buckle at St James' Park, they're in big trouble.

Over the next month Bielsa's side face some very tricky fixtures including clashes with Leicester, Everton, Aston Villa, as well as trips to Arsenal and Wolves. The only match you would say they would go into as favourites sees them face a Crystal Palace side who destroyed them at Selhurst Park in November.

While Leeds' early-season success was the result of solid team performances, a number of key individuals stood out after having their top-flight credentials questioned.

Goalkeeper Illan Meslier performed brilliantly in the opening months of the season - despite looking shaky at times in the Championship - while Patrick Bamford defied critics in finding the back of the net with regularity.

However, in recent weeks Meslier has looked more like the vulnerable youngster who struggled last season, while Bamford is three games without a goal - hardly a disaster but still his worst run of the season.

Two men who are out of form
Two men who are out of form / Pool/Getty Images

Leeds look like a team in need of a spark, something to reignite their campaign and drag them out of the doldrums, and a bit of individual brilliance or a quality display from either of their early-season top performers could be just the ticket.

Put simply, Leeds can ill-afford to head into this tough run of fixtures low on confidence, and if a dismal Newcastle side manage to take even a point away from Bielsa's side's visit to the north east, that's exactly what will happen.

Season defining games don't usually come around until April/May time, but it's fair to say that - just a few weeks into 2021 - Leeds are about to face theirs.