Match Preview: Leeds United v Reading - Will Whites respond to Hillsborough debacle?
Saturday, 14th Oct 2017 11:17 by @LucasMonk_
In their first competitive fixture since the conclusion of the international break, Leeds United today play host to lowly Reading in pursuit of three points with which to reclaim the necessary momentum to remain in contention at the pinnacle of the Championship.
Following successive - and deeply disenchanting - away defeats at the hands of Cardiff City (3-1) and Sheffield Wednesday (3-0) respectively in their last two outings in the Championship, Leeds United must display fortitude and record what would be a critical victory against visitors Reading this afternoon in the glare of their own expectant supporters.
Indeed, head coach Thomas Christiansen - who has been inured somewhat to the acrid sensation of Championship defeat in recent weeks - has been keen to impress upon his players the necessity of becoming a more robust and resilient outfit.
Speaking after United’s wholly warranted 3-0 walloping at Hillsborough recently, Christiansen said: “I speak about being strong, not soft, but at the same time it’s about living the game, reading what can happen in half-a-second, two seconds, and anticipating situations.”
Though Leeds’ performances of late could be most aptly described as having been woefully impotent (the Whites were bereft of abrasiveness both in Cardiff and Sheffield), opponents Reading have not tasted victory in their last five matches - managed by former Manchester United Jaap Stam, the Royals languish in 20th position ahead of kick-off at Elland Road. It could be plausibly argued that it is rather expedient for United to do battle with them at this time, having been presented with an opportune international break in which they will have attempted to refine their skills and eradicate from their play the type of grave errors that saw them toppled by Cardiff and Sheffield Wednesday.
Placed fifth in the table, Leeds have scored twice as many goals (18) than Reading (9) and have amassed 11 points more than the Royals have thus far this season. Though United are indisputable favourites to secure victory, Stam’s Reading were widely acclaimed for reaching the play-off final last season and, without question, there is not a paucity of quality in their ranks and many anticipate that they will soon recover from their slipshod start.
Imperious defender Pontus Jansson and tireless midfielder Eunan O’Kane have both been declared fit to play and as such are available for selection. Jansson could not partake in either of the two World Cup qualifying matches contested by Sweden during the international break due him having badly bruised his arm; O’Kane is set to recover after sustaining a rib injury.
Moreover, club captain Liam Cooper will most certainly be recalled after receiving two yellow cards during the recent 3-1 away defeat to Cardiff City.
Finally, Italian-Ghanaian striker Caleb Ekuban remains sidelined with a broken foot.
Reading will be deprived of the services of fleet-footed left-back Jordan Obita until the season’s end, after the defender underwent anterior cruciate ligament surgery.
Furthermore, midfielders Stephen Quinn and John Swift are presently sidelined with knee and hamstring ailments respectively. Forward Joseph Mendes will also be unavailable owing to injury, while Yann Kermorgant, who scored a decisive winning goal when the two sides last met, is a doubt.
Finally, Modou Barrow, who spent the latter half of last season on loan with United from Swansea City, may replace Roy Beerens in the Royals’ starting lineup after the Gambian recently returned from injury.
Venue: Elland Road (37,890 capacity).
Coverage: BBC Radio Leeds, BBC Radio Berkshire.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire), who incidentally officiated United’s 2-0 away defeat of Nottingham Forest in August.
When United and Reading last met at Elland Road - in December 2016 - the Royals enjoyed 77% of the ball possession. In spite of this, they were bested by a clinical Leeds who secured victory through a first-half goal from Chris Wood and a second-half penalty on the part of Souleymane Doukara.
Leeds have used the highest number of non-English players in the Championship this season. United have deployed 17 in total, while Reading - who have used the second most - have used 16.
Reading are currently experiencing their most barren sequence of results under manager Jaap Stam since the Dutchman’s appointment at the Madejski Stadium in the summer of 2016. The club have not won in their last six matches in all competitions.
Leeds United: Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Samuel Sáiz and Liam Cooper.
First, though he has had created for him by his teammates almost zilch in recent matches, Pierre-Michel Lasogga has already established himself as a firm favourite among United supporters. The German forward of 25 years has netted two goals - and has assisted a further three - since his season-long loan move from the Bundesliga’s Hamburger SV on transfer deadline day. If Lasogga continues to exude the same level of perseverance and diligence as he has done to date, he will doubtless soon begin to find the net with regularity.
Second, the diminutive Spanish playmaker Samu Sáiz is almost universally adored by the fans at Elland Road - and for good reason. Six goals, two assists and an average of 2.4 key passes per match comprise the 26-year-old’s contribution to the United cause since his summer move from Spanish Segunda División outfit SD Huesca. Agility, guile and attacking artistry are all possessed in abundance by the Spaniard and he may well be the player to carve the Reading defence asunder this afternoon.
Third, the recent Hillsborough debacle made clear the importance of central defender Liam Cooper to Thomas Christiansen’s Leeds United. Since (ostensibly) becoming the first democratically elected captain of the club in its history, the armband has elicited from the 26-year-old leadership qualities that have proven integral for United so far in the present campaign. In his absence, the Leeds rearguard offered the much-maligned Felix Wiedwald little, if any, protection from the bombardment of Sheffield Wednesday. Having served a suspension, the return of Cooper is most favourable for United; with the team in dire need of a victory, it is certainly of benefit to have one of its most salient players available for selection.
Reading: Sone Aluko, Joey van den Berg and Liam Moore.
In attack, while many of his teammates have floundered in recent weeks, Sone Aluko has, to a degree, excelled for a beleaguered Reading. The Hounslow-born 28-year-old, who has previously sported the colours of Rangers, Birmingham City, Hull City and Fulham, was Reading’s most prominent addition in the summer transfer window having been acquired from Craven Cottage for a reputed fee said to be in the region of £7,500,000. In his last three matches, Aluko has created three goals and has made an average of 2.2 key passes per match in his five appearances for the Royals to date - and the onus will likely be on him to spearhead the visiting attack with considerable efficiency if his team are to secure a creditable result today.
In midfield, Joey van den Berg, 31, is anticipated to start the match and be tasked with providing defensive support to a porous Reading rearguard that has not kept a single clean sheet in the Championship since negating Birmingham City in their 2-0 victory at the St Andrew’s Stadium in August. The Dutchman made over 150 appearances for an array of clubs in his native country prior to joining Reading in summer 2016 - FC Omniworld, Go Ahead Eagles and SC Heerenveen among them - and he recently acceded to a contract extension with the Royals in September - keeping him at the club until summer 2019.
Finally, former Leicester City prodigy Liam Moore, 24, has statistically - according to WhoScored - been Reading’s best performer this season. The Loughborough-born defender was an integral component of the Royals side that reached the play-off final last season and, unlike much of the Reading squad, has managed to maintain competent form. On average, Moore has won 3.4 aerial duels per match and has completed 83.9% of his attempted passes this season - and he will be tasked with mitigating the threat posed by a Leeds team who have netted the fifth most goals in the Championship so far this season.
In a match such as this, a draw would be disenchanting and defeat despicable. Reading, who are placed 20th in the table as these words are typed, are, at present, hapless and have failed to win in any of their last six matches. For Leeds, this is a chance most opportune to secure three points and assuage the concerns possessed by some supporters after the feeble displays against Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday.
United though, must be mindful of the threat posed to them by Sone Aluko and, perhaps, the fleet-footed Modou Barrow on the periphery. Reading, after such a barren sequence of results, will doubtless be as eager to emerge from this contest victorious as their opponents shall be.
Though they have so far been unable to replicate the stifling, possession-oriented style that served them so well last season, Reading remain a competent team and there is no such thing as a facile match in the Championship; league positions are often immaterial in the context of individual matches and the arising of unpredictable results is not an uncommon phenomenon in what must surely be the world’s most mutable division.
Leeds must exude more aggression in order to recover from the successive defeats that were deservedly inflicted on them in their last two matches. Little fault can be found in their attacking play, but United have to become more robust when out of possession if they are to mount a sustained challenge for the play-offs.
Prediction: This could well be a tightly contested affair if the recent form of the two teams is accounted for; Leeds to win 2-1.
Photo: Action Images
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