Keith Andrews says he isn’t sure Leeds United can maintain their promotion push as the Championship play-offs reach business end territory while praising the form of Aston Villa's Jack Grealish.
Leeds had a promising start to the season but their form began to fade as the season progressed, losing 11 of their last 23 league games.
Bielsa’s side performed well on Saturday, beating Derby County 1-0 semi-final first leg. The two sides will meet again Wednesday night for the return leg.
“I think it’s gonna be a Villa-Leeds final and I think if Leeds bring their A-game, I think it beats Villas A-game but I’m not sure they have their A-game left,” he said.
“I was impressed with them at the weekend against Derby but it still wasn’t the scintillating, free-flowing, absolute control of a football game that we’ve seen for the first three, four, five months of the season.”
The U21’s Irish coach did warn that “We’ve seen a couple of comebacks in the last couple of years so you can’t discard West Brom or Derby because they’re both capable, they have the potential to upset the apple cart.”
Andrews does, however, believe that the fans will be looking for a Villa-Leeds final.
“They were two teams, anybody around my age, would say they group up supporting or following or knowing so much about Leeds and Aston Villa.
"They were always those clubs people below the main two, three or four clubs that were up for winning the Premier League", said Andrews.
Leeds Play-off Performances
The focus of the discussion was primarily on Leeds following their game on Saturday.
“To be fair to them, they were outstanding, I thought they controlled the game against Derby… I think Leeds are certainly in the driving force for tomorrow (Wednesday) evening.”
On the Derby team, he added: “I was blown away by what he achieved with that set of players. That set of players finished 13th last season.
“When you add Patrick Bamford, Barry Douglas, the only two real signings into that equation for money and they’ve been injured for large parts of the season so I’ve always had concerns about whether will they’d be able to sustain it for a full season, mainly because of his training methods.”
Andrews noted their drop off by saying: “If you’re resting in between and taking things, training-wise, moderate. I think you can possibly sustain it but they didn’t, they lost 11 of their last 23 games in the league.
"They only had one point out of four going into the play-offs so there was huge concern about what they would produce in the play-offs against a Derby team who were playing very, very well."
Villa’s financial struggles, he believes, could have cost them before their financial takeover.
“Last year you felt, is it now or never for Villa.” He went on to say that the takeover meant “they have the financial muscle to be able to compete in the market.”
With the financial flow fixed, Andrews added that the club were then able to keep players like Jack Grealish.
“Take Liverpool and Man City out of the equation, I think he can play for any other Premier League team. I think he’s that good. I think the talent has always been there but what you’ve had in the last 12 to 18 months suggests has been a professionalism around his game and he seems to be taking it very seriously.
"I just think he’s leading his life the right way and the effects are spectacular, I think he’s turning into quite a special player.”
Words: Hugh Farrell