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Match Preview: Leeds United v Derby County - Whites welcome rampant Rams to Elland Road
Monday, 30th Oct 2017 20:42 by @LucasMonk_
Following their arid performance and subsequent 2-1 defeat to Yorkshire rivals and fellow promotion aspirants Sheffield United in last Friday’s televised fixture at Elland Road, Leeds United play host to emulous opponents Derby County tomorrow evening seeking a first home victory since the Whites’ 3-2 vanquishing of Ipswich Town in September.
Leeds United, at present, is a club of strength and stability. Coherent management of one of English football’s most famed institutions has been introduced by owner Andrea Radrizzani for the first time in a great many years, and the playing squad currently occupy fifth position in the Championship table - if the season were to conclude now, the club would have to their name a play-off berth.
However, there are a number of supporters who have been most vituperative in their criticism of the recent performances of the players and judgement of head coach Thomas Christiansen. What, proximately, has made these people so frightfully embittered and contumelious? What has fuelled the formulation of their fulminations? What has prompted them to call overtly for Christiansen to be relieved of his managerial responsibilities? The answer is results.
In Leeds’ last five Championship matches, the club have won merely once and have suffered the ignominy of defeat on four occasions. Bar the enthralling success away to Bristol City - a match in which the team played with much elan and attacked their opponents both ruthlessly and expeditiously on the counter-attack - Leeds have been supine, and Christiansen has yet to deign to desert an effete manner of play that has all too frequently seen his players relinquish possession of the ball in perilous positions. There exists now a body of opinion among some United supporters that their team will be continually beaten by more robust, direct opponents unless they themselves alter their approach. Leeds have been guilty of meekness, have been too hesitant to assert their authority in matches and in consequence have been bested by inferior sides. While it is not in order to demand Christiansen’s dismissal, United’s performances of late are an irrefutable source of consternation among the earnest and steadfastly faithful supporters who populate Elland Road on a matchday.
Opponents Derby County, in marked contrast, approach tomorrow night’s fixture in fine fettle. The Rams, who occupy seventh position in the Championship and who are presently managed by former player Gary Rowett, have won three matches in succession and victory at Elland Road would result in their overtaking of Leeds in the table. Rowett’s charges most recently recorded a commendable 2-1 success away to Norwich City at Carrow Road, and his team have not been inured to defeat since a 4-1 debacle at Bristol City in September. The East Midlands outfit have netted 19 goals this season - conceding five - with defenders Curtis Davies and Richard Keogh and midfielder Tom Huddlestone among the club’s most dependable performers. Rowett, a former manager of Burton Albion and Birmingham City, has assembled a workmanlike and industrious squad that possesses copious experience and is comprised of a refreshingly appreciable number of British players from England (14), Scotland (four), Wales (two) and Northern Ireland (one). Notably, there has been a meagre dependence upon the loan market on Rowett’s part, with forward Sam Winnall the only player acquired on a loan basis in the summer transfer window. Under Rowett’s tutelage, there has been moderate and measured improvement at Pride Park and supporters of the Rams are hopeful of their team mounting a challenge for the play-offs.
Having enjoyed an impressive sequence of recent results and with Leeds having suffered successive defeats in their previous two home fixtures, Derby will doubtless be eager to compound the misery of disgruntled United supporters while increasing pressure on Christiansen. Leeds must play with greater aggression and forthrightness than was the case in last week’s dispiriting defeat to Sheffield United if they are to ensure the retention of their position in the play-offs.
Leeds will be without the services of several salient players for tomorrow night’s match.
Pugnacious defender Gaetano Berardi shall serve the third and final match of a suspension the Swiss 29-year-old incurred owing to a purported headbutt on Bristol City forward Matty Taylor, while 26-year-old club captain Liam Cooper sustained a dead leg in the defeat to Sheffield United that renders him unavailable for selection for the visit of the Rams. The versatile 28-year-old Dutchman Vurnon Anita will likely deputise for Berardi at left-back, and 26-year-old Sweden defender Pontus Jansson is expected to replace Cooper.
Also recuperating from an injury are 20-year-old Manchester United loanee Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and nimble Ghanaian forward Caleb Ekuban. Borthwick-Jackson has not yet recovered from an ankle injury sustained in the recent match against Leicester City and though Ekuban has returned to first-team training following his overcoming of a foot injury, the 23-year-old has not yet returned to full fitness.
Tenacious 21-year-old midfielder Kalvin Phillips, a product of United’s illustrious academy, is suspended having had issued to him a fifth yellow card of the season.
It is almost universally anticipated that Thomas Christiansen will remain true to the 4-3-3 formation he initially elected to adopt against Bristol City, in spite of two successive defeats last week.
Derby are not afflicted by any new injury concerns of any kind, though it is highly probable that 27-year-old Scottish attacker Johnny Russell will be sidelined due to a hamstring injury.
Veteran forward Darren Bent, now 33, remains injured after tearing his hamstring in a pre-season friendly against Port Vale during the summer, while youthful defender Max Lowe, 20, is yet to recover from a knee injury.
In Gary Rowett’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, there is room only for one forward. Former Middlesbrough striker David Nugent, 32, opened the scoring for Derby away to Norwich City at the weekend and could thus well be again selected as the lone forward tomorrow evening.
Venue: Elland Road (capacity of 37,890).
Coverage: Those whom are residents of West Yorkshire will possess recourse, as ever, to live match commentary on BBC Radio Leeds. Alternatively, one could follow developments from Elland Road by way of either club’s official Twitter pages or by making use of BBC Sport’s live text updates, which are available on the BBC Sport website.
Referee: The match will be officiated by Simon Hooper, who presided over United’s 3-2 defeat of Bolton Wanderers on the opening day of the current season.
Derby have not tasted victory away to Leeds since April 2013, when goals from midfielder Paul Coutts and defender Jake Buxton proved decisive against a Leeds side who had earlier established a slender lead through a sumptuous goal by Ross McCormack. In the four meetings at Elland Road since, there have been two draws - 1-1 in May 2014 and 2-2 in December 2015 - and two United victories. In November 2014, two goals on the part of Italian striker Mirco Antenucci condemned Derby to a 2-0 defeat, and a headed goal by New Zealand international Chris Wood saw Leeds claim a 1-0 success in January this year.
Derby’s Czech striker Matěj Vydra has earned and scored more penalties than any other Championship player this season.
Leeds have not lost in three successive home matches since the 2015-16 season, when the club suffered defeats to Ipswich Town (0-1), Birmingham City (0-2) and Brighton and Hove Albion (1-2).
Leeds United: Samuel Sáiz
The diminutive 26-year-old Spaniard has been a nigh irrepressible attacking force for Leeds United since joining the club from Spanish Segunda División outfit SD Huesca in the summer transfer window. In all competitions, Sáiz has scored a commendable eight goals while creating for his teammates a further two. The attacking midfielder was desperately unfortuitous to not have scored in the recent defeat to Sheffield United - a rasping left-footed effort on his part crashed against the aluminium of the post - and brought to an end a run of three successive Championship defeats for Leeds with a stellar performance against Bristol City two weeks ago. There is an exigency at Elland Road for goals and Sáiz, one feels, may be best placed to create, or indeed to score, them.
Derby County: Joe Ledley
A Cardiff-born midfielder of 30, Ledley is an indefatigable player who had, prior to acceding to a contract with Derby County this season, persistently sought to regain possession from opponents in the colours of Cardiff City, Celtic and Crystal Palace. Ledley, who was deemed whilst playing for Cardiff in 2009 to be “on his way to the Premiership” by former Celtic striker John Hartson, is a hefty player possessed of strength and stamina that compensate for his dearth of speed. A winner of three Scottish Premiership titles and one Scottish Cup during his years with Celtic between 2010 and 2014, Ledley is a virtuoso at curtailing opposition attacks and is contracted to the Rams until January. Players such as Ledley are integral to success in away fixtures and Derby manager Gary Rowett will be hopeful of another dependable performance from the Welshman.
There have been many opprobrious remarks made concerning the veracity of Thomas Christiansen’s judgement, and that of his players, in the wake of Friday’s dessicated performance and consequent defeat to Sheffield United in what was a match of considerable importance to the supporters. To derogate Christiansen and his players in the manner in which many on social media have is, in my sincere view, gratuitous. Criticism of their recent collective performance is both just and of appropriacy; invective and expletives are not.
Leeds have been indisputably supine, acquiescent and bereft of attacking potency and defensive solidity in recent weeks. What is crucial to consider is that many teams who have secured promotion from this confounded division in the past have suffered comparably barren runs prior to their achievement of success. To have lost four of the last five Championship matches is deeply disconcerting but does not warrant Christiansen’s dismissal, and nor does it make acceptable the capricious nature of some supporters who would perhaps be better served by refraining from attendance at Leeds matches in the future if the experience is, to them, so unpleasant, unpalatable and insipid.
It seems to me that some have addled memories. I exhort those who have been so vituperative in their criticism of the head coach and the players to recall, if possible, the time at which they had not been able to savour a home victory for months on end during the tyrannical reign of Massimo Cellino, who today has been issued a fine of £100,000 and a ban from football of one year by the Football Association for contravening strictures regarding the operations of football agents in July 2014.
Tomorrow evening’s opponents shall arrive at Elland Road tomorrow evening having not been beaten for six consecutive matches. It will be a difficult fixture to emerge from victorious, but I am certain that an ostensibly forlorn team would benefit immeasurably if it were to receive genuine support from all of its supporters.
Leeds must, in order to see off the challenge of the Rams, exude resilience, aggression and flair tomorrow evening - all attributes that were absent as Sheffield United muscled their way to victory last Friday night in the glare of the television cameras. Also necessary, I hasten to add, is a complete abandonment of the absurd doctrine of playing the ball out of defence: all too often against the Blades, Leeds were guilty of ceding possession carelessly in their own half of the field.
I trust that Christiansen will be as wily and pragmatic enough as to act accordingly. The most pertinent question at this moment is whether or not the vast bulk of Leeds fans share my opinion.
Prediction: Leeds United 1-0 Derby County: I anticipate a dogged, workmanlike performance from Leeds in response to two disenchanting defeats in succession. Victory is essential for United to retain their position in the play-offs; I expect them to do what is necessary.
Photo: Action Images
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