Javi Gracia’s Leeds United hosting Dean Smith’s Leicester City in a crunch relegation clash sounds like something Football Manager would come up with in 2025. Given both clubs seemed relatively settled under Jesse Marsch and Brendan Rodgers at the start of the season, this surprise meeting of managers typifies how disastrous both club’s seasons have been.
With just six games to go, 16th v 17th in the Premier League is monumental. You could go as far as saying this is a winner stays up contest. And there is only one of these teams that look like they can win a game of football at this moment in time.
Smith’s start to life at Leicester has returned three points in two games, and the win over Wolves last time out was vital to their survival hopes. They even put in a decent showing in the last ten minutes against Manchester City, even if Pep Guardiola had made a raft of substitutions ahead of the Champions League tie with Bayern Munich.
The Foxes were without James Maddison against Wolves but Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy teamed up well to overturn the one goal deficit. It was Timothy Castagne that scored the winner as Leicester hauled themselves out of the relegation zone. If they are to survive they need to back those three points with another good performance at Elland Road.
Leeds has become a city of misery this season as the football club has lost its sparkle in the top flight. Under Marcelo Bielsa they had a true identity but through Marsch and now Gracia, that has been almost completely lost. Now they are as flimsy as they were under the legendary Argentine manager, without the attacking flair and heart.
Their two recent games at Elland Road were scarring. A 5-1 defeat to Crystal Palace was followed by a 6-1 hammering at the hands of Liverpool. The home crowd in Yorkshire haven’t been thrilled with their performances recently, and an away defeat at Fulham only added to the frustration.
Now they return to their own patch, absolutely desperate for three points. Currently, Leeds sit just one point above Leicester, and one point above the relegation zone that contains Everton, Nottingham Forest and Southampton. However, the pool of clubs that are in contention to be relegated is shrinking, and Leicester and Leeds are still in it.
West Ham have pulled away from danger ever since their comeback against Arsenal. Wolves will be fine under Julen Lopetegui and Bournemouth, with three wins in their last five have moved them five points clear of the bottom three. As the games tick down, it becomes easier to predict who will slip into the Championship.
It’s why this game is so gargantuan at the bottom. With a win, Leicester or Leeds can plunge the other one into danger while giving themselves a healthy cushion that could be vital as we progress into the final five. You’d have to back the Foxes to get the job done, and score a hatful in the process based on the current form.
Maddison is likely to return from illness and has the potential to elevate them to the next level, alongside an in-form Iheanacho. Attack is the best form of defence when up against a Leeds outfit low on confidence, so going for the jugular should pay off for Smith. For Leicester this time around, a point isn’t a good result. A point probably isn’t enough for Leeds either. It has all the ingredients to be a hectic, winner stays up, contest. Another heavy defeat for Gracia could spell the end of his managerial reign before it has even begun.