|Leeds United 1 v 0 Norwich City|
Saturday, 16th December 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Match Preview: Leeds United v Norwich City - Can Whites clip wings of Canaries?
Friday, 15th Dec 2017 21:47 by @LucasMonk_
After an alacritous performance on the part of hat-trick hero Kemar Roofe powered them to a most gratifying 3-1 victory away to Queens Park Rangers last Saturday, Leeds United (7th) play host to Norwich City (16th) at Elland Road tomorrow afternoon as Thomas Christiansen’s resurgent charges continue in their relentless pursuance of play-off qualification.
The Championship is, indisputably and inherently, one of the most eminently mutable divisions in the world; tomorrow afternoon shall see two of its most mercurial teams do battle at Elland Road as they bid to resurrect their respective league campaigns.
Leeds United against Norwich City. For the victors, three invaluable points to aid in their aspirations of an ascension to the division’s loftier reaches. For the losers, a grievous wound best treated by the recording of a success in their next match. A draw is of little avail to either team.
After a barren sequence of results that saw United defeated in four successive outings in all competitions, head coach Thomas Christiansen, whose managerial aptitude was rigorously impugned after his team were vanquished 3-1 by Brentford whilst November was young, has performed commendably in overseeing Leeds’ forging of a form of imperturbability that contrasts markedly with the mental fragility that was visible to all when Derby County eliminated a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1 against United in late October.
Since, Leeds have conceded whilst leading games but have not meekly contrived to lose them as they did the Derby match. A serendipitous Britt Assombalonga penalty mattered not when Christiansen’s charges, against a febrile backdrop of almost every supporter within Elland Road vociferating profanities, held their nerve to defeat Middlesbrough 2-1 last month. Henri Lansbury’s sumptuous drive secured a well-earned draw for Aston Villa at the start of the present month, but only weeks previously it would likely have been the catalyst for a Villa victory. And finally, calamitous custodian Felix Wiedwald’s inexplicable second half vagary halved United’s advantage at Queens Park Rangers last week, but they exuded fortitude and self-assurance to restore said lead only moments later to make their triumph a certainty.
Christiansen merits much credence for having made Leeds not invincible, impregnable or infrangible but for having made them resolute, cogent and infinitely more difficult to defeat. His players, now attuned to the unforgiving rigours of the English game, have begun to thrive and flourish - the white-haired winger Ezgjan Alioski is a lustrous example and irrefragable proof of this. In recent weeks, the docility present within his performances has dissipated and been replaced with an imposing tenacity that has allowed the diminutive 25-year-old to manufacture and score goals with far greater regularity than he had done earlier in the campaign. Gone is the effete, feeble, unavailing man who appeared more concerned with the state of his hair than his paucity of attacking prowess; in his place is a fleet-footed menace, capable of expeditiously tormenting opposing defenders and fashioning opportunities for himself and his teammates. He embodies the tremendous renaissance enjoyed by Leeds at this moment, one instigated by Christiansen’s judicious management of the team.
Tomorrow's opponents, Norwich, could be forgiven for being ever so slightly emulous and ever so slightly envious of United’s present position of promise and vigour. Last weekend’s conquering of Sheffield Wednesday, who have not yet disposed of the beleaguered Carlos Carvalhal, was their first victory since October. Daniel Farke, formerly the manager of both SV Lippstadt 08 and Borussia Dortmund II in his native Germany, has conspicuously been unable to adapt his tactical methods to contend with the abrasiveness of the English game as his counterpart Christiansen has. A platoon of Germans - defenders Christoph Zimmermann and Marcel Franke and midfielders Tom Trybull and Marco Stiepermann - followed Farke and flocked to the Canaries in the summer transfer window, and the team have subsequently had their wings clipped on a plethora of occasions. Under Farke’s etiolated management, Norwich have won a third of their matches this season and must improve briskly to ensure that the ten-point aperture between themselves and the play-offs does not become an impassable chasm.
The last vestiges of hope for Norwich may well be placed upon the shoulders of both Nelson Oliveira and James Maddison. Oliveira, a 26-year-old Portuguese forward and a product of Benfica’s reputed academy, netted 11 goals from 16 league starts last season and is currently City’s leading goalscorer with six strikes to his credit this term. Maddison, a 21-year-old attacking midfielder who spent a period on loan with Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership last season, has scored on no less than five occasions in addition to creating three goals for his teammates. Presently, the two are by far the most gifted footballers at Carrow Road and if the embattled Farke wishes to evade the ignominy that the termination of his contract would foist upon him, he must deploy them effectively for the season’s remainder and fend off interest in their services from predating clubs in January.
While Leeds, ravenous for a play-off berth after the most dispiriting conclusion to the 2016-17 season, have already begun to reclaim the winning form of August, Norwich face a gargantuan, though not yet insurmountable, task to bring themselves back into contention for a top six finish come the campaign’s end. Though the victory over Carvahal’s flightless Owls may be perceived as a representation of progress by supporters of the Canaries, this is a match that United expect to win. The procurement of three precious points by the hosts would propel them further toward the play-offs, standing them in fine fettle for an auspicious meeting with Hull City at Elland Road next week, and surely bring to an end Norwich’s season.
It is anticipated that head coach Thomas Christiansen, who does not have to contend with new injuries to any of his players, shall persist in his use of a 4-2-3-1 formation.
There are a smattering of injuries that contrive to afflict Leeds at this moment. Striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga returned to training this week but shall not be available for selection. Another notable absentee is Stuart Dallas, who has not yet recovered from the injury he suffered whilst on international duty with Northern Ireland. Lastly, striker Caleb Ekuban’s injury - sustained last Saturday - is undergoing scrupulous examination and, though he is not available for selection tomorrow afternoon, Christiansen intimated to the media on Friday that this impediment is not as severe as that which Ekuban suffered earlier in the season.
Furthermore, Christiansen will have recourse to the artistry and panache of Pablo Hernández once again - the 32-year-old missed United’s victory against Queens Park Rangers after sustaining a minor injury. In his preliminary press conference ahead of the game, Christiansen also declared that winger Hadi Sacko and forward Jay-Roy Grot - who have been peripheral figures thus far this season - are available after neither player partook in last weekend’s match. Sacko was ailed by an illness whilst Grot was suffering from a knock.
Finally, after his dexterous hat-trick proved decisive in Leeds’ victory at Loftus Road last weekend, Kemar Roofe is expected to be afforded a lone striking role with Paweł Cibicki and Ezgjan Alioski being deployed on the right and left channels respectively. The puerile midfielder Mateusz Klich, who has been most vocal in expressing his discontent with his dearth of playing time this season on social media, is not expected to feature at all within the matchday squad once again.
Norwich head coach Daniel Farke shall not be able to field either attacker Steven Naismith, midfielder Louis Thompson or defender James Husband; Naismith continues to be plagued by an ankle injury, Thompson by an achilles problem and Husband by a groin issue.
Farke does, however, have the services of tenacious midfielder Alexander Tettey available to him once more, though Tettey is more likely to be named among the substitutes in lieu of starting the match - Mario Vrančić and Harrison Reed are expected to be selected in central midfield.
Finally, Nelson Oliveira will likely retain the striking berth for the Canaries after netting his sixth goal of the season against Sheffield Wednesday last weekend.
Venue: Elland Road (capacity of 37,890).
Coverage: As is always the case, supporters unable to attend the fixture will be able to access live match commentary on the part of BBC Radio Leeds. Alternatively, one could follow developments by making use of either the live text commentary offered on the BBC Sport website or by keeping a watchful eye on either of the club’s Twitter feeds.
Referee: Darren England, who chiefly officiated matches in League One and League Two throughout last season, and will referee at Elland Road for the first time in his career.
Throughout history, there have been 55 matches between United and City. United have won 21 matches and City 18, with the fixture producing a draw on 16 occasions.
The most recent meeting between the two teams arose in April, when Leeds, having trailed by three goals to nil, produced a memorable fightback to draw the match 3-3. Chris Wood, Kyle Bartley and Pablo Hernández were the United scorers on the day.
Although only Millwall (21) are the only team to have used fewer players in the Championship this season than Norwich (22), the Canaries have made 59 alterations to their starting lineup - eight more than any of their divisional rivals.
As had been the case prior to my venture to West London last week, I approach this match with ample confidence and not a modicum of trepidation. Norwich have floundered under the management of the hapless Daniel Farke since their 1-0 victory away to eternal rivals Ipswich in the East Anglian derby and their triumph over Sheffield Wednesday was their first since.
In marked contrast, Leeds have performed stoutly and resolutely in recent weeks. The Whites have recovered from a barren spell and are now well-placed to usurp Sheffield United and claim for themselves sixth position ahead of the January transfer window. It is crucial that the momentum presently enjoyed by Leeds is prolonged for as long as is feasibly possible, and victories against teams such as Norwich, who have endured a wretched few months and who languish in 16th position prior to this contest, are absolutely necessary in achieving this.
There can be no complacence or complacency on the part of Thomas Christiansen’s charges tomorrow, and I do not anticipate that there will be ahead of what is another momentous clash in the frenetic festive period. Norwich are still possessed of attacking players with much elan and guile - Nelson Oliveira has made manifest his goalscoring prowess against Leeds in the past - and the match is not a foregone conclusion. I expect Leeds to record victory and remain in firm contention for the play-offs.
Prediction: Leeds United 2-0 Norwich City
I cannot look beyond United for this match; I cannot envisage a meek and porous Norwich defence - one that has not recorded a clean sheet since October - countervailing the potent attacking threat posed by Ezgjan Alioski, Samuel Sáiz, Pablo Hernández and Kemar Roofe. Leeds’ alacritous attackers should prove decisive determinants of the match’s outcome.
Photo: Action Images
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