Southampton advantage myth exposed as Daniel Farke lessons learned despite Elland Road setback

On the face it, you could be forgiven for thinking Southampton had the upper hand in Sunday's play-off final at Wembley.

While Leeds United finished three points better off than the Saints over the course of the regular season, when it comes to the head-to-head battle, Russell Martin's side won both encounters. The 3-1 defeat at St Mary's back in September showed Daniel Farke, who was only just beginning his Leeds journey of course, just how far his side had to go, while the 2-1 setback at Elland Road on the final day of the campaign condemned the Whites to third place.

Leeds have built much of their success on a solid back line this season, but on both occasions Southampton managed to breach United's defence far too comfortably. What is perhaps more concerning is that Leeds fielded a very different back four in each of those games.

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At St Mary's a defence of Liam Cooper, Pascal Struijk, Jamie Shackleton and Sam Bryam saw the home side race into a three-goal first-half lead on a day when many lessons were learned. Fast forward eight months and it was a very different - if now more familiar - rearguard that was beaten at Elland Road.

Byram was the only survivor, although he had switched flanks, with Junior Firpo at left-back and the usually rock-soilid pairing of Joe Rodon and Ethan Ampadu at the heart of defence. So you could argue Southampton have their number no matter who plays?

Well, no - and Farke explained as much when analysing the most recent Southampton defeat. This was not the Leeds side which led the way in the clean sheets statistics this season, as Farke set his side up very differently on the final day. Illan Meslier had more shutouts that any other Championship goalkeeper (19) but Leeds will play in a contrasting style at Wembley.

Nothing but a win would have sufficed for United on the final day - as it was, Ipswich's win over Huddersfield Town meant the result was a moot point anyway - but there was no point in Leeds looking to keep things tight at the back in that Elland Road showdown, as Farke explained.

"This was not our normal standards," he said. "We chose a risky approach because there was no other option. We pressed man vs man against one of the best counter-attacking sides in the league. Would not always approach this team like this.

"We wanted to go for a wild style to maybe put some pressure on Portman Road. The whole game the opponent was in the lead because we gave the goals away cheaply. They tried everything to press high and play high risk in the second half,. Although we allowed them space we kept a clean sheet in the second half. Would have liked an equaliser or winner for the confidence. Drawing or being rock solid today was no option."

What's more, Leeds have gone on to keep consecutive clean sheets in their two play-off semi-final games with Norwich City, holding the Canaries to a goalless draw at Carrow Road before that Elland Road 4-0 masterclass last week. We could well see that back four again at Wembley, with Byram the only injury concern, and Archie Gray ready to drop back into the right-back slot should he miss out.

So don't be fooled. Farke did learn the lessons of St Mary's - the rest of the season told us that - and that final Southampton defeat can be written off as an anomaly. Now to prove the point at Wembley.