|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 3 Leeds United|
Saturday, 9th December 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Match Preview: QPR v Leeds United - Will Whites win in West London?
Friday, 8th Dec 2017 23:12 by @LucasMonk_
Last Friday saw the beginning of what is to be an onerous December for Leeds United (8th) heralded by a creditable 1-1 draw at home to Aston Villa. Having undergone a minor renaissance in recent weeks, United, esurient for palatable points to aid them in their bid for play-off qualification, travel to Loftus Road today in pursuit of a first victory against Queens Park Rangers (18th) since May 2011.
In recent matches, Leeds United could be described, with appropriacy, as having performed competently but unremarkably. The robust, diligent and thoroughly workmanlike style Leeds have cultivated is in no way refined or consummate, but their newfound imperturbability has seen them recover after a barren streak of four consecutive defeats in all competitions.
In their last four matches, United have vanquished Middlesbrough (2-1) and Barnsley (2-0) in addition to securing what was a valuable point against Aston Villa last Friday. The only defeat - a 4-1 debacle - suffered by Leeds in this period owed to a stellar performance on the part of Wolverhampton Wanderers and the indiscipline of fledgling midfielder Ronaldo Vieira. After being subjected to considerable odium, United, under head coach Thomas Christiansen, continue to remain in contention for the play-offs.
Meanwhile, today’s opponents, Queens Park Rangers, find themselves mired in a most unenviable predicament at the present moment. Though wily and possessed of appreciable experience, Ian Holloway has not succeeded in eliciting satisfactory performances from the squad at Loftus Road this season; Rangers have won only five of the 20 Championship fixtures they have contested in the present campaign, and have not emerged victorious from any of their last five matches.
After the ill-fated and profligate Premier League crusades of 2012-13 and 2014-15, escapades that saw the West London outfit part with copious capital for the services of capricious mercenaries such as José Bosingwa, Christopher Samba and Tal Ben Haim, the club have endeavoured to alter their approach since their calamitous relegation to the Championship in May 2015. Rangers now make a point of securing the inexpensive signatures of domestic players, and the captures of goalkeeper Alex Smithies (Huddersfield Town), midfielder Luke Freeman (Bristol City) and winger David Wheeler (Exeter City) are symptomatic of this change. Though the club have not since bettered their finish of 12th in the 2015-16 season, it could plausibly and coherently be argued that for QPR supporters to expect more of their team is for them to be unduly ambitious.
For the respective teams, victory is a clear necessity; United must procure three precious points from this duel, on what has been a far from fertile battleground for them in recent years, in order to remain in firm contention for the play-off places, while Rangers will doubtless be eager to evade a frenetic relegation skirmish by putting further distance between themselves and the precarious relegation zone.
Though Leeds are almost universally considered the favourites to win this match, it is in order to note QPR’s impressive record against the Whites in recent meetings. In the last six matches between the two sides, Rangers have not been defeated, drawing thrice and winning thrice.
Queens Park Rangers
When selecting his matchday squad for today's match, Rangers manager Ian Holloway will have to be mindful of the suspensions incurred by forward Jamie Mackie and defender Alex Baptiste in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Preston North End at Deepdale.
However, the beleaguered 54-year-old will have recourse to the services of Nedum Onuoha, who has been a notable absentee for Rangers since sustaining an injury of considerable severity against Millwall in September. The 31-year-old central defender, formerly of Manchester City, has recuperated from this encumbrance and returned to training this week - as did fellow defender Grant Hall. Onuoha is thus in contention for a berth in the matchday squad today, while Hall could record his first appearance of the season.
Finally, it is anticipated that target man Matt Smith, formerly of Leeds, will function as the central striker in a 4-4-3 formation today.
In his preliminary press conference on Friday, Leeds United head coach Thomas Christiansen corroborated the unavailability of Pablo Hernández after the Spaniard sustained an injury during the recent match at home to Aston Villa.
Furthermore, left-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and German forward Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who are on loan at Elland Road from Manchester United and Hamburger SV respectively, remain sidelined with injury.
Finally, the Republic of Ireland international Eunan O’Kane will once more be available for selection after recuperating from a hip injury.
It is most probable that Christiansen will elect to deploy his players in a 4-2-3-1 disposition once more, with Caleb Ekuban retaining his striking berth.
Venue: Loftus Road: S Africa Rd, Shepherd's Bush, London W12 7PJ. (Capacity of 18,439.)
Coverage: As is always the case, supporters unable to attend the fixture will possess recourse to live match commentary on the part of BBC Radio Leeds. Alternatively, one could monitor developments via BBC Sport’s live text commentary.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh, from Lancashire, has officiated four Premier League matches this season and last oversaw a United fixture in April, presiding over Leeds’ 1-1 draw away to Newcastle.
QPR have not suffered the ignominy of defeat in their last six meetings with Leeds; Rangers last lost to United in May 2011, when an opening goal by Heiðar Helguson was neutered by strikes from Leeds’ Max Gradel and Ross McCormack respectively.
Ian Holloway has not lost in any of his last four league fixtures at home to Leeds, winning thrice and drawing once. He was last conquered by a United manager in November 2006, when Dennis Wise guided Leeds to a 2-1 victory over Holloway’s Plymouth Argyle at Home Park - Robbie Blake and Eddie Lewis netted the Leeds goals.
Leeds have conceded the opening goal in seven Championship matches this season, and are yet to record a single point after going behind. United last eluded defeat when conceding the first goal in a 1-1 draw away to Wigan Athletic in their final match of the 2016-17 season.
Only weeks ago, Leeds United were on the threshold of a convulsive implosion. Only weeks ago were United’s players bereft of self-assurance. Only weeks ago, faith in an embattled Thomas Christiansen’s managerial faculties was being corroded by impotent Leeds performances and deeply dispiriting results.
At this moment, United are in a position of vigour and effervescence - though not even the most steadfastly passionate supporter of the club would have envisaged a sentence such as this being written about the team after a doleful defeat to Brentford at Griffin Park on November the 4th.
If any Leeds player encapsulates wonderfully the side’s resurgence of late, it is Caleb Ekuban. The gusto and diligence displayed by the Italian-born Ghanaian forward following his recuperation from injury is a most apt allegory of the nature of United’s performances in recent matches. Leeds have performed competently to accrue seven points from their last four matches, and, prior to this match, remain in firm contention for a play-off berth.
If Christiansen’s charges are to fulfill the expectations of owner Andrea Radrizzani by finishing within the top six, then victory is a necessity in a match such as today’s. A hapless Queens Park Rangers outfit, decimated by injuries and suspensions and impaired by financial impediments, must be put to the sword if United are to make manifest once more their credentials. This is precisely the type of fixture in which a team harbouring aspirations of mounting a concerted assault upon the division’s loftier reaches should prevail comfortably. There may be no such thing as a facile match in the Championship, but this is a match Leeds will deem themselves capable of winning.
The most conspicuous threat to Christiansen and his team today shall likely be posed by Matt Smith, a towering target man of a rugged countenance who formerly sported United’s resplendent white between 2013 and 2014. The 28-year-old rose to prominence as a talismanic figure in the colours of various non-league outfits including Redditch United, Littleton and Solihull Moors, and is a formidably authoritative aerial presence. Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper must be conscious of they are to mark QPR’s top scorer into silence.
While many observers, including myself, are most confident of an away triumph, Leeds shall have to play with the same assiduity and application that they have exuded in the recent matches against Middlesbrough and Barnsley if they are to finesse for themselves three crucial points.
Prediction: Queens Park Rangers 0-2 Leeds United
I cannot envisage very many threatening attacks being engendered by the hosts, and I consider that any goalscoring opportunities of theirs will arise principally from set-pieces. Leeds must endeavour to ensure that Samuel Sáiz is afforded more possession than was the case against Aston Villa last Friday, as he could once again be the catalyst for victory.
Photo: Action Images
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