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Match Preview: Barnsley v Leeds United - Can Whites trump the Tykes?
Saturday, 25th Nov 2017 01:41 by @LucasMonk_
Following their suffering of a most injurious 4-1 defeat at the hands of Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday evening, Leeds United today make an excursion to Oakwell to duel with local rivals Barnsley in what is considered by many an observer to be a match of critical importance for the Whites and head coach Thomas Christiansen (12:30pm).
Leeds United’s defeat to the rampant league leaders, Wolverhampton Wanderers, on a wretched Wednesday evening at Molineux was almost ubiquitously anticipated. Against a team heaving with fleet-footed and star-studded players possessed of experience in European competition, and that was assembled to the tune of a gargantuan sum that exceeded £30,000,000, Leeds were only ever in with a meagre chance of victory.
In Wednesday’s match, Wolves had alacritously established for themselves a 2-0 advantage owing to a sumptuous free-kick from Barry Douglas - about which United goalkeeper Andy Lonergan could do zilch - and a left-footed effort by Ivan Cavaleiro. Ezgjan Alioski’s venomous volley perturbed Leeds’ hosts and, momentarily, United had secured a foothold in the contest; Wolves, though, would eventually emerge victorious in a comprehensive and consummate fashion, after Ronaldo Vieira’s indiscipline saw him sent off for a second bookable offence. Subsequently, a self-assured finish by Diogo Jota and a penalty by Wanderers’ expert marksman Léo Bonatini made the home side’s triumph certain.
Leeds’ defeat was unquestionably merited, but it does not make necessary much rumination. They were vanquished by vastly superior opposition almost certain to gain promotion to the Premier League this season. Today’s match should be the sole focus of all associated with United. At Oakwell, a perpetually barren hunting ground for Leeds in recent times, Thomas Christiansen’s team must prove the existence of their mettle and show themselves to be as desirous of success as their supporters are. Despite an execrable run of form in recent weeks, United are a mere three points behind sixth-placed Middlesbrough and remain in contention for a play-off berth.
Opponents Barnsley enter this match having lost only once in their last five Championship fixtures. The Reds, managed by Paul Heckingbottom, are presently positioned in 17th place in the division after 17 matches, with a total of 20 points to their credit. With a squad that boasts domestic British talent in plenitude, Barnsley have scored and conceded 23 goals, and thus have a goal difference of precisely zero. Their most salient first-team stars are Scottish central defender Liam Lindsay, left-back Matty Pearson and on-loan Leicester City midfielder Harvey Barnes. The South Yorkshire outfit are six points above the relegation zone and will doubtless be eager to conquer United amid the backdrop of a febrile atmosphere in order to further dissociate themselves from a desperate relegation dogfight.
23-year-old full-back Adam Jackson will be unavailable for selection owing to injury, while 24-year-old winger Lloyd Isgrove is still recuperating and regaining fitness.
Additionally, towering defender Angus MacDonald is hopeful of returning to the field after a foot injury, while doubt has been cast over the fitness of both full-back Zeki Fryers and forward Mamadou Thiam.
Finally, Tom Bradshaw is expected to recover from an injury sustained in a recent car accident and be selected as a lone forward, with Harvey Barnes and Adam Hamill on the left and right channels respectively.
There remain a smattering of injuries that serve to hinder United head coach Thomas Christiansen at this moment.
German forward Pierre-Michel Lasogga and English left-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson - both of whom are on loan at Elland Road from Hamburger SV and Manchester United respectively - are sidelined with injury. Winger Stuart Dallas will also be unavailable.
Furthermore, there is the suspension of Ronaldo Vieira to ponder. The young, indefatigable midfielder received a one-match ban after having two yellow cards issued to him in Wednesday evening’s debacle away to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Moreover, Vurnon Anita may be called upon in Vieira’s place to partner Kalvin Phillips in central midfield, with Mateusz Klich omitted from the matchday squad along with winger Paweł Cibicki.
Finally, Italian-born Ghanaian striker Caleb Ekuban, the scorer of 17 goals in the Albanian Superliga last season for FK Partizani Tirana, may be selected in place of Kemar Roofe to spearhead the United vanguard.
Venue: With a capacity of 23,287, Oakwell has been home to Barnsley since 1888.
Coverage: As is always the case, supporters will have recourse to live match commentary on the part of BBC Radio Leeds. The match is also due to be broadcast live on television by Sky Sports.
Referee: The match shall be officiated by Huddersfield-born referee Andrew Madley, 34, who most recently took charge of a Leeds match in October, when United were defeated 3-0 by Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. Most intriguingly, he is yet to issue a single red card this season in the 18 matches he has presided over.
Throughout history, there have been precisely 60 matches between Leeds United and Barnsley - of which United have won 23, drawn 17 and lost 20.
In all of their three Yorkshire derbies away from Elland Road this year, United have been defeated - Leeds have recorded losses to Barnsley (January), Huddersfield (February) and Sheffield Wednesday (October).
Samuel Sáiz has played a role in the creation of 12 goals for Leeds this season in all competitions with eight goals and four assists - four more than any other United player.
In the wake of a deeply disconcerting performance and subsequent result on Wednesday evening, in addition to having ruminated awhile on Barnsley’s imperious home record against Leeds in recent years, I anticipate a stern test of the mettle of both Thomas Christiansen and the United players today.
Any repetition of the pugnacious indiscipline exuded by Leeds on Wednesday will almost certainly culminate in a profoundly harmful defeat. United must, without question, display fortitude and compete diligently against their venturesome opposition, but they must also be wily, circumspect and composed. The stands will be chock-full of effervescent supporters who will engender a febrile atmosphere; one impetuous challenge, one lapse in concentration, one crude elbow in an opponent’s face and the match will, like soft sand, pass through Leeds’ hands as was the case in midweek. No player must present to the referee a credible reason for which to brandish a red card.
Ostensibly, there will be alterations to the United lineup other than that which will see the suspended Ronaldo Vieira replaced. Caleb Ekuban may well be afforded a first league start since August 19 and with the Elland Road scouting department reportedly identifying transfer targets, it would be expedient for the Italian-born Ghanaian striker, who was likened to Mario Balotelli during his formative years with Chievo Verona, to make a discernibly positive contribution in a match of critical importance to the supporters and to the side’s prospects.
Opponents Barnsley boast an array of potentially potent attacking threats. On the right, Adam Hamill is a seasoned campaigner capable of excellent crosses, while the fledgling Harvey Barnes on the left flank is adept at chancing his arm from distance and has already netted five goals and registered four assists this season. Paul Heckingbottom has performed admirably in his role at Oakwell since succeeding Lee Johnson as manager, and has carefully assembled a squad abundant with domestic talent - it is most refreshing to see youthful British players afforded regular first-team opportunities at a creditable level of football.
Heckingbottom has, this week, made some rather incendiary remarks in an attempt to motivate his players ahead of the match. He described Leeds as a team “a team everyone loves to hate”.
In response, United impresario Christiansen said: “If their manager has pronounced that then it can give my players more motivation to know what is awaiting them, and for them to be ready.”
Leeds most certainly cannot afford to be ill-prepared for what is such a momentous clash; Brian McDermott was the last Leeds manager to mastermind a United victory over Barnsley at Oakwell, with Ross McCormack scoring the only goal in a 1-0 success in April 2014. Prior to McDermott’s triumph, United had last won at Barnsley in November 1997. Oakwell has notoriously not been a benign venue to Leeds, and victory in circumstances such as those they currently find themselves mired in would apprise their rivals once more of their potential to compete for a play-off berth.
Prediction: Barnsley 1-2 Leeds United
Notwithstanding the dismal defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday, Leeds made clear their ability to secure results against difficult opponents in pivotal matches with last Saturday’s wholly merited triumph over Middlesbrough. United’s form has been, for the most part, egregious in recent weeks, but this is often immaterial in the context of local derbies and the victor, if a victor there shall be, will be determined not by past actions but by those of the Leeds players on the pitch today. Ezgjan Alioski and Samu Sáiz must be permitted to play freely in the final third if United are to perforate what will be a dogged Barnsley defence.
Photo: Action Images
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