A season to forget finally draws to a close on Sunday as Albion wave goodbye to the Premier League once again with a trip to Elland Road.
The contrasts between the two clubs could hardly be more stark and yet they were on a par just 14 months ago. When the country went into lockdown and football was suspended in March last year, Leeds led Albion by one point at the top of the Championship table with the chasing pack some six points back. Since football returned in June, the relative performances of the clubs have been poles apart.
Leeds earned 22 points from their remaining nine games of the Championship season, Albion stuttered over the line with just 13. In the Premier League, Sunday’s hosts have stormed ahead and sit in tenth spot with 56 points, 30 more than the Baggies.
Perhaps the biggest reason is the willingness of Leeds United’s owners to invest in the football club demonstrated by the signings of Costa, Raphinia and Rodrigo last summer for a combined fee of £59m, players that boosted what was an already excellent squad. Albion, meanwhile, spent most of their meagre transfer budget on keeping their Championship squad together having relied on loan signings to get them up, and none of the additional players brought in were of the quality required to compete in the Premier League.
Not until February did the Baggies look capable of competing in the division, and that was only after the introduction of loan players once again. Furthermore, the players were ultimately not good enough to secure sufficient points despite improved performances and the club is now back where it was in the summer of 2018 in need of a massive rebuild.
A new head coach is the priority with Chris Wilder the early favourite but, in the meantime, Sam Allardyce will lead the team for his final game at Elland Road. With the team selections for the games against Liverpool and West Ham more interesting in the belief that he would be in charge next season, there will be little to read into who starts the game on Sunday. However, for those players that do take to the field, and are hoping to stick around, it will be an opportunity to impress whoever the new boss will be.
It could be that we have already seen the last of Matheus Pereira in an Albion shirt. The Brazilian is an injury doubt for the final game of the season and his future is certainly in doubt. Luke Dowling and his team must decide whether to cash in on the Baggies’ most talented player or try to persuade him to be the heart of a promotion-chasing team next season. Meanwhile, Sunday will almost certainly be Sam Johnstone’s last game for the Baggies with all expectations that he will be sold in the summer with just one year left on his contract.
There will certainly be an atmosphere of celebration at Elland Road as they welcome fans back for the first time since winning promotion and following that up with an impressive first season back in the Premier League. The Baggies will be hoping to spoil the party, but all Albion fans will be looking enviously at Leeds United knowing how far they have dropped back in little more than a year. Even a surprise victory would provide little comfort.