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Championship play-off final: Leeds United and Southampton fight for swift Premier League return

Leeds United and Southampton square off at Wembley Stadium this weekend, with the last spot in next season’s Premier League on the line. 

Referred to as the most expensive game in football, the 2023/24 Championship play-off final falls on Sunday, May 26, with the kick-off scheduled for 3.00 pm (BST).

Both sides are vying for an immediate top-flight return after suffering relegation last term, buoyed by emphatic victories in their respective play-off semi-final ties. 

There was nothing to separate Leeds and Norwich City after the first leg before a thumping 4-0 win at Elland Road saw Daniel Farke’s side tee up this blockbuster tie.

Southampton’s semi-final triumph against West Bromwich Albion came in identical fashion, with the Saints easing to a 3-1 home victory after a scoreless first-leg on the road. 

Where to watch the Championship play-off final on TV?

Fans in the United Kingdom can watch the Championship play-off decider on Sky Sports Football, while ESPN+ has the broadcast rights in the United States.

If you want to watch the game, check out the Championship broadcast partners on EFL’s official website or find live Championship streams here.

How did Leeds get here?

Leeds seemed on course for automatic promotion before an underwhelming run of form at the backend of the regular season condemned them to a third-place finish. 

Three defeats in four matches towards the end of the campaign, bookended by a 2-1 home loss to none other than Southampton, saw the Whites finish six points adrift of runners-up Ipswich Town.

After a topsy-turvy first half of the campaign, they got 2024 off to a flying start, assembling an illustrious 15-game unbeaten league run (W13, D2) before a late-season blip.

However, Farke carries a tag as a ‘promotion specialist,’ having led Norwich to two Championship titles during his four-year stint at Carrow Road. 

The 47-year-old upset his former employers in the play-off semi-finals to hand Leeds a chance to return to the Premier League after their three-year top-flight stay ended last year.

Ominously for the Whites faithful, the last time Leeds slipped to lower-league football, it took them 17 years to find their way back.

How did Southampton get here?

Speaking of decades of suffering outside the Premier League, Southampton’s last relegation required a seven-year wandering between the Championship and League One before reclaiming a spot at the top table.

Unlike Leeds, who lasted in the top flight for three years upon their return in 2021, the Saints enjoyed a ten-year tenure in the Premier League before last season’s bottom-place finish.

Relegation triggered a managerial shift at St Mary’s, with Russell Martin taking over the reins last summer before inspiring Southampton to their longest-even unbeaten run this term.

Martin oversaw a 22-game unbeaten league streak between late September and mid-February, adding three more undefeated cup games to the tally along the way to set a record 25-match streak.

But the Saints’ formidable mid-season form was only enough for a fourth-place finish, largely thanks to their sub-par results on hostile turf, illustrated by a 47% win ratio in away league action. 

Injuries & suspensions

Leeds will probably have to navigate the play-off final without long-serving striker Patrick Bamford, who’s still out with a knock. 

Pascal Struijk is another high-profile absentee, but Farke can draw confidence from Sam Byram’s return to the fold. 

Gavin Bazunu and Juan Larios have joined Stuart Armstrong in the Southampton treatment room. Che Adams and Ross Stewart are facing a race against time to make it to Wembley. 

Leeds United potential starting XI:

(4-2-3-1): Illan Meslier; Archie Gray, Joe Rodon, Ethan Ampadu, Junior Firpo; Illia Gruev, Glen Kamara; Wilfried Gnonto, Georginio Rutter, Cryscencio Summerville; Joel Piroe.

Southampton potential starting XI: 

(4-3-3): Alex McCarthy; Kyle Walker-Peters, Taylor Harwood-Bellis, Jan Bednarek, Jack Stephens; Downes, Will Smallbone, Joe Aribo; David Brooks, Adam Armstrong, Ryan Fraser.

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