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Leeds United 3 v 1 Stoke City
SkyBet Championship
Sunday, 5th August 2018 Kick-off 16:30
Match Preview: Leeds United v Burton Albion - Whites seek first league home win after Forest fillip
Friday, 8th Sep 2017 18:40 by @LucasMonk_

After manufacturing, with ruthless efficiency, a masterly performance to vanquish Nottingham Forest away from home in their last league outing, Leeds United (3rd) will play host to Burton Albion (21st) tomorrow in their first fixture since the conclusion of the international break and its concomitant tedium (15:00).

Leeds United's recently installed head coach, Thomas Christiansen, may not have been the recipient of what would have been a wholly merited Championship manager of the month accolade, but this does not in any way cheapen the sprightly start Leeds United have enjoyed under his tutelage to date. In their opening seven fixtures of the season in all competitions, Christiansen and his charges have been impregnable and tomorrow's match at home to lowly Burton Albion presents to the Whites a grand opportunity with which to extend their commendable sequence of results. At Elland Road, the introduction of cogent management and the seamless assimilation of precocious talent, recruited from overseas, into the first-team have already begun to pay significant dividends. The squad is a harmonious concoction of well-schooled domestic players and initially enigmatic foreigners - the latter have already made clear their finesse and guile - presided over by a fledgling head coach, who, despite having limited experience in management to date, has excelled in his previous roles within Cypriot football.

Sustainability, prudence and aspiration underpin the Radrizzani project. A rational, and largely circumspect approach to each and every aspect of the club's operation - one that contrasts markedly to the errant, frenetic methodology of previous impresario Massimo Cellino - has yielded results that are satisfactory to Leeds United supporters - both on and off the field. Be it the repurchase of Elland Road, the playing squad's imperious form under Christiansen, the judicious nature of the director of football, Victor Orta, or the exponential rise in the number of season ticket holders: Leeds United now stands proudly in its most benign state for many a year. None of that will be erased when Christiansen and his players are finally inured to the acrid taste of defeat, and the notion of the club being well-placed to mount an assault upon the division's uppermost reaches will remain incontestable even if Burton Albion are to secure an improbable victory tomorrow.

Burton themselves currently occupy 21st position in the table. The Brewers have taken a mere four points from their opening five matches - in contrast to the 11 United have amassed thus far this season - but have recently defeated Birmingham City and Cardiff City (in the Carabao Cup) in addition to securing a creditable draw against Sheffield Wednesday. That there is no such thing as a facile fixture in the Championship is a prevalent, and almost pervasive, view, and for good reason. As recently as April this year, few had forecast that Albion would defeat United, who were at that juncture bidding for a play-off berth under Garry Monk, but the Brewers caused many an eyebrow to raise by emerging from the match as 2-1 victors. Only a mere matter of months prior to that meeting, and the upstarts from Staffordshire were, in the eyes of innumerable beholders, most certain to be relegated - they were not, even if they may be at the end of this campaign. In spite of the departure of their most salient asset in the form of the Australia midfielder Jackson Irvine, who scored 10 goals for the club last season, it would be deeply unwise to regard this match as a foregone conclusion and anybody who opts to imperils themselves to ignominy.

While this is a match that is, quite rightly when the respective league positions and stature of both clubs are examined, considered to be one that Leeds should win, zilch is certain in one of the world's most mutable and intriguing divisions. Whether the technical aptitude of United will triumph over the more industrious, workmanlike approach of their contemporaries remains to be seen.

Team News

Leeds United

Defenders Matthew Pennington - on loan from Everton - and Gaetano Berardi have resumed first-team training following their absence in recent weeks due to ankle and shoulder afflictions respectively. The two are thus available for selection, but it is probable that head coach Thomas Christiansen will refrain from making defensive changes of any kind tomorrow afternoon.

Eunan O'Kane played no part in the Republic of Ireland's recent international fixtures against Georgia (1-1) and Serbia (0-1) due to a groin injury - though he is expected to be available for selection. The midfielder had received a call-up to the squad from manager Martin O'Neill following his impressive form of late.

Youthful Dutch striker, Jay-Roy Grot, could have a first Leeds United start conferred upon him after making his debut as a substitute in the recent victory at Nottingham Forest. Fellow attackers Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Paweł Cibicki - who joined from Hamburger SV and Malmö FF on deadline day respectively - are likely to be named among United's substitutes.

Italian-born Ghanaian forward Caleb Ekuban, 23, is presently sidelined with a foot injury and will not feature again until November.

Burton Albion

Left-back Stephen Warnock, having recovered from ankle injury, may well return against one of his former employers, but midfielder Luke Murphy is ineligible and is not permitted to compete against his parent club.

Another former White, Luke Varney, is hopeful of being named in Nigel Clough's matchday squad. The forward has recently been plagued by a hamstring injury.

Former Reading and Blackburn midfielder Hope Akpan has completed the suspension imposed on him following his recent red card against Middlesbrough, but the Nigerian international, first capped in 2014, is injured and will not feature.

Striker Liam Boyce, a Northern Ireland international who was the highest scorer in the Scottish Premiership for Ross County last season, arrived at the Pirelli Stadium in the summer for a club-record fee, but is unlikely to feature for the club until next year following a knee injury sustained by the player against Shrewsbury Town in pre-season.

Match Facts

There have only been three meetings between the two sides throughout history, the first of which was a friendly contested at Albion's Pirelli Stadium in 2012 - a solitary goal from Luke Varney, who of course now plays for the Brewers, won the match for Leeds. Last season saw the sides meet twice in the Championship, with United winning the first of the matches 2-0 at Elland Road - Burton would win the reverse fixture 2-1.

Burton have had fewer attempts on target, 12, than any other side in the Championship this season, scoring a paltry four goals in their opening five league matches.

United could become the sixth club in the history of the Football League to draw each of their opening three home league fixtures of the season 0-0. The last side to do so were Burnley, managed by Chris Waddle, in 1997.

Match Details

Venue: Elland Road, Leeds (37,890).

Kick-off: 15:00 GMT.

Coverage: BBC Radio Leeds.

Referee: Oliver Langford, who most recently officiated a 3-1 victory for Yeovil Town over Exeter City in League Two.

Key Players

Leeds United: Samu Sáiz.

A diminutive Spaniard of 26 years, Samu Sáiz has elicited smiles and rounds of applause aplenty at Elland Road since his transfer from SD Huesca - of the Spanish Segunda División - for a reputed fee of £3,000,000. Capable of turning on a sixpence in an instant in addition to moments of unadulterated brilliance, Sáiz has already found the net on no less than five occasions for United - including a superlative hat-trick in the first round of the Carabao Cup against League Two outfit Port Vale. If Burton are to emerge from tomorrow's fixture having eluded defeat, it is necessary for them to mitigate the potent threat posed by the dexterous Spaniard.

Burton Albion: Joe Mason.

Having signed for the club in the recent transfer window on loan from divisional rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers until January, Joe Mason will be tasked with spearheading Burton's vanguard and scoring the requisite goals to ensure that the Brewers avoid being cast adrift at the foot of the Championship table. The 26-year-old, who first rose to prominence in 2011 after his performances for Plymouth Argyle precipitated a £250,000 move to Cardiff City, scored with what was his first touch in an Albion shirt in Burton's recent draw with Sheffield Wednesday at the Pirelli Stadium, and will look to further occupy the gaping void created by Liam Boyce's knee injury - Mason was signed by Nigel Clough to directly address the exigency for a forward following Boyce's sustaining of said injury.

Writer’s Verdict

At long last, the loathsome international break and its concomitant tedium have passed after what felt like aeons. (Though it'll soon become a bête noire once more of those of us whom are staunch in our refusal to tune into ITV and observe the English national team, exuding their customary mundanity, passing the ball predominantly horizontally in another confounded World Cup qualifying match.)

Quintessential footballing competition has returned and, with it, so has United's first home match since the 5-1 decimation of Newport County in the second round of the Carabao Cup. Opponents Burton have, unlike ourselves, encountered difficulty in amassing points thus far this season, but supporters of the Brewers will doubtless have been encouraged by the mettlesome displays produced by their side in recent weeks.

My doubts as to whether tomorrow's meeting will come to resemble, in any way, United's previous meeting with Albion are manifold - I expect Leeds to win, and in consummate and comprehensive style at that. First, the respective playing squads of the teams have undergone considerable change. Second, Burton are, arguably, in a predicament immeasurably more difficult than that which they were confronted by last season - they have ceded the highly influential Jackson Irvine to Hull City and are now a known quantity to their Championship rivals having avoided relegation in 2016-17. Third and last, the Brewers will no doubt feel the absence of Luke Murphy, who cannot feature due to his ineligibility to face his parent club.

Whether Leeds are to emerge as convincing victors remains to be seen but Burton's enfeebled state at present, coupled with the fact that confidence has soared among all associated with United after the euphoria of the Forest fillip, most certainly makes a home victory highly probable. Anything less than victory warrants disappointment, and this is a fixture that a play-off aspirant should negotiate with relative comfort.

I predict a first league victory at Elland Road for Leeds this season, though I also envisage Burton expending no less than all their available energy.

Prediction: Leeds United 3-1 Burton Albion

Photo: Action Images

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