|Leeds United 0 v 0 Middlesbrough|
Friday, 31st August 2018 Kick-off 19:45
Match Preview: Leeds United v Middlesbrough - Bielsa's Whites gear up for Boro battle
Friday, 31st Aug 2018 15:33 by @LucasMonk_
Leeds are seeking to put their ignominious egress from the Carabao Cup behind them tonight as they do battle with Middlesbrough at Elland Road (7:45pm).
Football is a game of many firsts. On Tuesday evening, Leeds United suffered their first defeat of the new season and their first under Marcelo Bielsa, who is managing in England for the first time, and who is hoping to become the first man to lead Leeds back to the Premier League since their relegation in 2004.
United were ineluctably going to lose a match under the Argentine at some juncture, but Preston North End’s worsting of them was hardly seen as being forthcoming, and as such, Daniel Johnson’s opener from the penalty spot took a great many people by surprise, but not as much as Brandon Barker’s superb second did after Ryan Ledson was sent off for a horrific lunge on Lewis Baker.
The affair will most certainly not go down as the club’s, or Bielsa’s, finest hour, but perhaps getting that first loss out of the way will bring more good than ill to Leeds, whose celestial start to the league campaign has already seen them tipped as contenders for automatic promotion.
They should now have their feet cleaved to the ground and their gaze firmly fixated upon a more benign first: becoming the first United team to win promotion from the second tier since 1990 - and they could take another hefty stride toward that feat by winning this battle of first against second tonight.
Boro have added a dash of delightful talent to what was already a quite redoubtable squad, with the eminently efficient Tony Pulis having captured the signatures of Aden Flint, Paddy McNair and Muhamed Bešić, as well as those of Jordan Hugill and Sam McQueen. The Teessiders have astutely exploited the loan market to good effect, and this, coupled with a scintillating start to the season, has fuelled hopes of securing automatic promotion amongst the club’s supporters.
Unabashedly direct, and with a formidable squad managed by a wily and seasoned campaigner in Pulis, Boro are likely to be a key rival to United this season as both clubs bid for promotion.
But who will come out on top in tonight’s pivotal clash?
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A much-changed Leeds side may have fallen to a dismal defeat against Preston in midweek, but Marcelo Bielsa will likely revert to the lineup that utterly eviscerated Norwich City, whilst again employing a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Tony Pulis and Middlesbrough will remain true to the 3-5-2 system that has paid dividends for them thus far this season, with former United midfielders Adam Clayton and Jonny Howson likely to link up with Muhamed Bešić in midfield. Britt Assombalonga should partner Jordan Hugill in attack, whilst Aden Flint, Dael Fry and Daniel Ayala will comprise the back three. Darren Randolph shall again start in goal.
Recent League Form:
One to Watch: Pablo Hernandez, Leeds
The Spaniard received much acclaim for a virtuoso display at Carrow Road last Saturday, in which he scored an absolute howitzer in the second half, curling the ball beyond Tim Krul with real finesse from outside the area.
He thus heads into this match in a rich vein of form, and also opened the scoring in this fixture last season, when Leeds worsted Boro, then managed by ex-United head coach Garry Monk, 2-1 at Elland Road in November 2017.
This is likely to be a fiercely competitive and closely-fought match, and Hernandez is more than capable of making a telling contribution on the right for Leeds.
Referee: Tim Robinson
Robinson (West Sussex) has officiated four Championship games this season, showing 16 yellow cards and two reds, and will be assisted by Matthew McGrath and Andrew Fox, with Oliver Langford acting as the fourth official.
Writer’s Verdict: Leeds United 1-1 Middlesbrough
This promises to be a keenly-contested match. Both sides have enjoyed especially sprightly starts to their respective campaigns and are more than likely to be challenging for promotion.
Leeds are yet to suffer defeat in the Championship under Marcelo Bielsa, and have won both of their home fixtures, defeating Stoke City (3-1) and Rotherham (2-0). They have also proved an almost irrepressible attacking force, and are yet to fail to score in a league match under the Argentine having amassed a total of 14 goals from just five matches. Equally impressive is United’s possession average, which is the league’s highest at a healthy 55.8% - a reflection of the dominance they are enjoying at present and a vote of confidence in Bielsa’s progressive brand of football.
But Middlesbrough have also impressed, and have won their last five matches in all competitions. Their possession average - 46% - ranks significantly lower than that of United, which is an indication of Tony Pulis’s predilection for a long-ball style. They have also scored five fewer goals than Leeds, but have conceded just twice, a fact redolent of a greater focus on defence than attack. A compelling clash of styles is on the cards.
United will look to Kemar Roofe, who has scored four goals already this season, as well as the creative faculties of Samuel Saiz and Pablo Hernandez and Mateusz Klich, whose outstanding form has seen him called up to the Poland squad ahead of their forthcoming fixtures. The hosts also have recourse to Barry Douglas's potency from set-pieces, and the defensive steel and tireless industry of Kalvin Phillips.
That triumvirate of Saiz, Hernandez and Klich shall have to play well if Leeds are to perforate a stubborn Boro rearguard featuring Daniel Ayala, Dael Fry and Aden Flint. The visitors, conversely, will hope that Jordan Hugill and Britt Assombalonga will complement one another well in attack, with Pontus Jansson and Gaetano Berardi tasked with marking them into silence.
I feel that there is almost zilch between the two teams, and that a draw is the most probable result.
Photo: Action Images
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