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Match Preview: Leeds United v Aston Villa - Can Whites vanquish the Villains?
Friday, 1st Dec 2017 16:21 by @LucasMonk_
Following their assiduous performance and excellent result away to Barnsley at Oakwell last Saturday, the beginning of an onerous December for Leeds United - one that will see them contest six Championship fixtures - is to be heralded with a televised duel against fellow play-off aspirants Aston Villa at Elland Road tonight (7:45pm).
Among Leeds United supporters, and perhaps the supporters of divisional rivals, December has long received merited odium for being one of the most exigent months of the season. It is a time of a gruelling plethora of matches. It, due to its inherently arduous nature, can often contrive to exhaust and enervate teams, thus meaning that their performances wither. It is, for sides in pursuit of promotion, a rigorous and stern trial of their credentials and resolve.
When tonight’s opponents, Aston Villa, last visited Elland Road in December 2016, Leeds were in firm contention for a play-off berth under the tutelage of the now Middlesbrough manager Garry Monk. The context in which tonight’s match will be contested is not wildly divergent, for United have much to prove under present head coach Thomas Christiansen. Leeds currently occupy 8th position in the Championship table, having accrued 29 points this season - three fewer than Derby County in 6th position. Aston Villa, who will be aided by the presence of 2,500 travelling supporters, are 4th, with 35 points to their credit. If United are to remain in contention, they must surely secure victory tonight against potent and coherent opposition.
It is quite probable that tonight’s match may be one of the most difficult Leeds will contest this season. Villa, under the wily management of the experienced and erudite Steve Bruce, may be unremarkable, but at Bruce’s disposition is a squad chock-full of established, consummate professionals such as former United winger Robert Snodgrass, the fleet-footed Ghana international Albert Adomah and the industrious Republic of Ireland midfielder Glenn Whelan. Furthermore, the Villains have been defeated in only one of their last seven matches away from Villa Park - a statistic that is irrefutable evidence of the Birmingham side’s aptitude in away fixtures.
Notwithstanding their wholly merited victory over Barnsley in last Saturday’s Yorkshire derby, United enter the match as marginal underdogs against Aston Villa, who are the favourites to win the match in the eyes of many observers. That said, a competitive match is anticipated and the final result may come to be decided by a scenario in which one side is conspicuously shown to be more desirous of the three points than the other. If Leeds are to record a victory of crucial importance, and only their second at Elland Road since September, they must exude resilience and maintain an infrangible self-assurance throughout the match as they did against Middlesbrough last month.
There remain a smattering of injuries that serve to plague the Leeds United squad at this moment.
Left-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who are on loan at Elland Road from Manchester United and Hamburger SV respectively, remain sidelined owing to injury and as such will be unavailable for selection. Northern Ireland international Stuart Dallas will also be absent, but the Republic of Ireland’s Eunan O’Kane could return after a hip problem.
Tenacious midfielder Ronaldo Vieira will once more be available after serving a one-game suspension incurred by two bookable offences in United’s recent defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux.
Finally, the Italian-born Ghanaian striker Caleb Ekuban is anticipated to spearhead the Leeds vanguard this evening, with head coach Thomas Christiansen likely to remain true to his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce will have to be mindful of the five injuries to first-team players that presently afflict the squad at Villa Park when selecting his 18-man squad for tonight’s match.
Former Chelsea captain John Terry, midfielder Mile Jedinak, winger Andre Green and forwards Jonathan Kodjia and Scott Hogan will all play no part for the Villains tonight.
The fledgling forward Keinan Davis, 19, will thus play as a lone striker in the absence of Kodjia and Hogan. Davis, an imposing attacker who stands at 6 ft 3, was released by Stevenage in 2015 but has since been able to resurrect his career owing to patience and diligence, and the player has, since his release by Stevenage, scored his first professional goal this season and has become a significant figure at Villa Park.
Lastly, Christopher Samba is expected to partner James Chester in central defence, with Tottenham Hotspur loanee Josh Onomah tasked with providing the ammunition for Villa’s attackers in a 4-4-1-1 disposition.
Venue: Elland Road (capacity of 37,890).
Coverage: As is always the case, supporters unable to attend the match in person will have recourse to live match commentary on the part of BBC Radio Leeds. Additionally, the fixture will be broadcast by Sky Sports on live television. Alternatively, live text commentary will be available on the BBC Sport website.
Referee: Peter Bankes, who officiated Leeds’ 2-0 victory over Birmingham at Elland Road in September.
Having scored four goals in his last four matches, Macedonian winger Ezgjan Alioski will become the first Leeds United player to score in five consecutive matches since Ross McCormack in September 2011 if he is to net another goal tonight.
This season, Leeds have faced the other five teams presently in the top six of the Championship and have lost four of those matches, winning once. Those four defeats comprise half of United’s league losses in the current campaign.
Having failed to score in any of his first 21 Championship away fixtures for Aston Villa, Albert Adomah has scored five goals in his last six. He has not, however, ever scored in his six Championship appearances at Elland Road.
Tonight’s match must be recognised for the stern test of United’s capabilities that it is. Aston Villa, after three successive victories, must be considered the favourites for this match but there is cause for optimism among Leeds supporters.
The excellent defeats of both Middlesbrough and Barnsley in recent weeks made manifest once again the potential possessed by this United team. Players such as Ezgjan Alioski, who was the recipient of much opprobrium earlier in the season, have come to prove their worth to the team with a series of superlative performances; the industrious Kalvin Phillips continues to perform what are ostensibly rudimentary tasks in the middle of the park, but they are also tasks that are as important as the goals scored by Alioski in the last four matches - if only this were understood by a greater number of observers.
The salient fact, this verbose scribe surmises, is that even if they are to be defeated tonight by a powerful Aston Villa team, Leeds are well-placed to traverse the perilous and choppy waters of this month and amass crucial points in their pursuit of a play-off berth come the season’s end. It should still be noted that United are capable of winning this match, if they display the fortitude that served them so well against Middlesbrough last month.
Prediction: Leeds United 1-1 Aston Villa
I anticipate a fiercely competitive match but with both sides depleted in attack and in possession of sturdy defences, a draw appears the most probable outcome. Leeds will depend on the consummate triumvirate of Samuel Sáiz, Ezgjan Alioski and Pablo Hernández to pose to their opponents an attacking threat, while Aston Villa will look to Robert Snodgrass and Albert Adomah to provide for the young Keinan Davis.
Photo: Action Images
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