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Leeds United   v   Stoke City
SkyBet Championship
Sunday, 5th August 2018 Kick-off 16:30
Match Preview: Leeds United v Preston North End - The Sternest Test Yet
Saturday, 12th Aug 2017 03:55 by Lucas Monk

Following their comprehensive defeat of League Two outfit Port Vale in the first round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday evening, Leeds United today play host to Preston North End (15:00) in a return to the rigours of league competition.

It would be a truism to opine that Thomas Christiansen has enjoyed a sprightly start to his reign at the managerial helm of Leeds United; in his first two competitive matches in charge thus far, the 4 year-old has guided his new charges to victory - though, admittedly, said successes have arisen against two of the feeblest opponents the Whites will encounter all season.

Nevertheless, the early signs augur well. The prospects recruited by the club from overseas - to the tune of economically sensible transfer fees - have already made clear that they are possessed of finesse in profuse amounts. Samu Sáiz, a Spanish attacking midfielder of 26 years who was acquired from SD Huesca, produced a stellar performance on his debut against Port Vale, scoring a wondrous hat-trick. Ezgjan Alioski - a Macedonian winger of 25 and the object of interest from Serie A’s Atalanta prior to his move to United - has contributed two assists in the two matches in which he has featured. Third, 23 year-old forward Caleb Ekuban scored the fourth Leeds goal and laid on the strike that ensured that Sáiz would receive the match ball on Wednesday evening.

Today’s match will see a Leeds squad that has undergone extensive surgery be subjected to a heightened degree of scrutiny; not only will Elland Road be densely populated with expectant supporters, but Preston North End - now managed by former Norwich City impresario Alex Neil - will pose the sternest test of United’s resolve under Christiansen to date. A commendable finish of 11th last season (a feat masterminded on a highly restrictive budget by the present Sunderland manager Simon Grayson) is a fact that can be used to identify the Lilywhites as one of the moderately competent teams in the division. The playing staff at Deepdale is in no way comprised of infallible talents, but it is abundant with well-schooled, disciplined British players who are armed with years upon years of Football League experience. Names such as Ben Pringle, Greg Cunningham and Tommy Spurr will no doubt be familiar to those who keenly follow developments in England’s second-tier.

The hosts are rightly the favourites to win this match - one could argue that North End’s midweek debacle away to Accrington has much to do with that being the case - but the season remains young and it would be deeply unwise of any beholder to state that this match could not end in an away victory.

Team News

Leeds United

Defenders Matthew Pennington and Gaetano Berardi, who sustained ankle and shoulder injuries respectively during the recent match away to Bolton Wanderers, will not feature. The latter’s absence makes it nigh inevitable that Cameron Borthwick-Jackson will receive his league debut after signing from Manchester United on loan until the season’s end.

Thankfully for United, the imperious defender Pontus Jansson is once more available for selection after serving a two-match suspension - this ameliorates the Whites’ acute defensive woes of late.
Finally, Samu Sáiz could displace Pablo Hernández as Leeds’ artistic sorcerer in attacking midfield after his obliteration of Port Vale’s Carabao Cup aspirations on Wednesday evening.

Preston North End

Defender Tom Clarke is certain to miss out through injury, while doubt has been cast upon the chances of midfielders Josh Harrop and John Welsh featuring in the match.

Forward Jordan Hugill will likely retain his place in the starting lineup having netted twice in North End’s defeat to Accrington on Tuesday night.

Match Facts

The last encounter between the two sides occurred in April; Leeds were 3-0 victors at Elland Road with Kemar Roofe, Pablo Hernández and Souleymane Doukara the goalscorers.

Preston have not tasted victory on the hallowed turf of United’s home since September 2010: the Lilywhites, having trailed 4-1 at one juncture, emerged from a frenetic thriller as 6-4 winners.

Only Fulham’s Tom Cairney (eight) has assisted more Championship goals this year than the Whites’ Pablo Hernández (seven).

Match Details

Venue: Elland Road

Kick-off: 3.00pm

Coverage: BBC Radio Leeds

Referee: Scott Duncan

Key Players

Leeds United: Ezgjan Alioski

The introduction of the 25 year-old winger in the second-half of Wednesday’s match proved the catalyst for United’s consequent 4-1 victory over Port Vale. As soon as the pusillanimous Hadi Sacko was replaced by the rather more direct Macedonian, the Valiants crumbled. The former Lugano talisman’s attacking dexterity was clear for all inside Elland Road to see as he proved instrumental in the creation of the trinity of goals that were to make the difference. His impressive showing in midweek is likely to have earned him a starting place for today’s match, and the fleet-footed wide-man will be keen to further establish himself as a key figure in the Leeds side by producing another good performance this afternoon.

Preston North End: Ben Pearson

A combative and industrious 22 year-old midfielder, Ben Pearson will be tasked with providing for the Preston defence additional protection in the face of United’s various attacking outlets.

Writer’s Verdict

This match represents a much sterner test of United’s abilities than those of the opening day and Wednesday did. It shall be a litmus test, of a kind, that will perform the function of being the first credible indication of approximately which region of the table Leeds will finish in come May.

However, the performances against Bolton Wanderers and Port Vale did inform the watching public of United’s newfound variance in attack; it seems that the present squad at Elland Road features many more discernible sources of goals than that of last season. The primary area of concern is now that of defence. With that in mind, this could well be a game that poses of Thomas Christiansen and his players difficult questions and if they can provide the answers, perhaps there is cause for a little more boundless optimism on the part of us supporters.

With regard to a prediction, I take the view that this will be a hard-fought battle but, ultimately, a battle that we will win. It should be noted that Preston are a solid, dependable side - but I believe our squad to possess as much diligence as they do as well as more in the way of finesse.

Prediction: Leeds United 2-1 Preston North End

Photo: Action Images

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Flipo added 00:22 - Aug 13
Clean and informative

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