Cup progress or promotion? Leeds weigh up priorities for Chelsea trip

<span>Archie Gray, whose great uncle is the Leeds legend Eddie Gray, celebrates his goal in Friday’s 3-1 win over Championship leaders Leicester.</span><span>Photograph: Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images</span>
Archie Gray, whose great uncle is the Leeds legend Eddie Gray, celebrates his goal in Friday’s 3-1 win over Championship leaders Leicester.Photograph: Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images

It is the stuff of logistical nightmares. What happens if Leeds reach this season’s FA Cup final, scheduled for Saturday 25 May at Wembley, and also end up in the Championship playoff final, set to take place a day later at the same venue?

The Football League says it has a “contingency plan” but Daniel Farke can only hope it never needs to be revealed and no showpiece date requires alteration.

As Farke’s Leeds, second in the second tier and desperate to secure automatic promotion, head to Chelsea for a fifth-round FA Cup tie on Wednesday night, the German would hardly be human if he did not, privately, harbour mixed feelings about the instant gratification involved in a giant-killing.

Related: Bamford seals stirring comeback win as Leeds cut Leicester’s lead to six points

Granted it may be an ideal moment to play Mauricio Pochettino’s presumably fatigued Carabao Cup final losers as Leeds seek a quarter-final place for the first time since 2003. Yet the trip is the first of four games in 10 days for Farke’s squad and there is a strong case for arguing that the league assignments against Huddersfield, Stoke and Sheffield Wednesday should be prioritised.

The memory of last year’s possibly season-changing mistake at Accrington in the fourth round has not been forgotten. Indeed the then Leeds manager, Jesse Marsch, may never be forgiven in some quarters of Elland Road for bringing Rodrigo, his team’s top scorer, off the bench with his side 3-0 up. Rodrigo sustained a serious ankle injury requiring surgical repair and his lengthy absence quite possibly proved partly responsible for Leeds’ relegation, not to mention the loss of the American’s job.

All that modern history perhaps explained why Farke sounded ever so slightly tentative when, on the eve of the Chelsea tie, he said “we would like to extend our Cup run” before promptly explaining that the key forwards Patrick Bamford, Georginio Rutter and Crysencio Summerville were nursing minor injuries and may not be fit.

Although it would be a shame if Bamford missed out on an opportunity to remind his old club of his talent, Farke cannot afford to gamble on a striker whose return to form and fitness has coincided with the team’s run of nine consecutive Championship victories.

The Leeds manager was much more definite when it came to assessing the psychological impact of Chelsea’s draining defeat by Liverpool in last Sunday’s Carabao Cup final. “I don’t think Chelsea losing it will help us or make our life easier,” Farke said. “I expect they will now be very, very focused on this game. The FA Cup is their best chance to play in Europe next season. I think they are highly motivated for this game. I think it will make it more complicated for us.”

Even so, anyone who watched Leeds come from behind to beat the Championship leaders, Leicester, 3-1 at Elland Road thanks to three goals in the final 10 minutes last Friday night will know better than to underestimate them.

It is just unfortunate the timing is far from ideal. “After Leicester there was a lot of emotion,” Farke said. “I am [still] very, very tired. We are heading into a very busy period and we need all our energy. The load on us will be immense over the next couple of weeks. If I’m honest I’d prefer to play Chelsea in different circumstances; not as part of four games in 10 days.”

That congestion has presented Farke with an unenviable dilemma. “I’m a big believer in cup competitions and the FA Cup is probably the most famous one in western Europe,” he said. “We want to represent our club in the best way possible but when you reach the crunch time period for promotion you have to be smart in your decision-making.

“You don’t do anything stupid. You don’t risk any players [carrying minor injuries]. We won’t risk long-term injuries for this game. I’d like to prepare in a special way but, due to our schedule, it’s not possible. We have to keep the next three league games in our minds; we’ve got a pretty important derby against Huddersfield on Saturday lunchtime. Yet we also know we will have amazing travelling support in London and it’s a spotlight game for us.”

The tie also represents a litmus test of the challenges ahead if Leeds return to the top flight. “Leicester was good preparation for Chelsea – it was a Premier League-level game,” said Farke. “Leicester are quick in transition and Chelsea are the same. We know we won’t dominate possession and we have to be quicker in our decision-making. We’re the underdogs but we’ll try to defend really well and be brave. We go in with nothing to lose.”