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Match Preview: Leeds United v Leicester City - Foxes the visitors as Whites hunt back-to-back wins
Sunday, 1st Nov 2020 18:41 by Lucas Monk

Leeds United are hoping to continue their strong start to the season as they host Leicester City on Monday night, and could rise to as high as second in the Premier League table with a victory (20:00 kick-off).

Despite being without the influential Kalvin Phillips and Liam Cooper, United were worthy winners in their last outing away to Aston Villa. Patrick Bamford turned in a striking performance for the ages as he fired in a superlative hat-trick and helped Leeds to a third victory in their last five matches. Anterior to the start of the season, a great many pundits cast a great many aspersions on Marcelo Bielsa’s men and their ability to adapt to the rigours of top-flight football following last season’s imperious promotion, but they have shown no sign of abandoning the high-octane and decisive style that has served them so well since the Argentine arrived in West Yorkshire two years ago.

Leeds face an established Premier League force in Leicester City, who almost inexplicably won the title four years ago. Following that triumph, Claudio Ranieri (the architect of it), Craig Shakespeare and Claude Puel have all come and gone. The arrival of Brendan Rodgers from Scottish behemoths Celtic has brought much-needed stability to a club that had lost its way in the years after 2016. Rodgers’s tactically flexible and possession-based style helped the Foxes to a fifth-placed finish last season, and players such as James Maddison, Youri Tielemans and, of course, the evergreen Jamie Vardy will play a crucial role as they look to better that placing this time around.

A stern test, but one we can approach without fear

It should go without saying that this match is a rather stern test for Leeds. Leicester are an established force in the division with a switched-on manager and a squad brimming with technical and attacking talent.

However, it is a task Marcelo Bielsa’s side can approach without fear. The season is still young, but the early signs have certainly been auspicious. United have won three of their six matches thus far and are already comfortably above the relegation zone, and they have made this strong start without resorting to any kind of tergiversation from Bielsa’s attacking principles.

Robin Koch, a summer addition from Bundesliga outfit SC Freiburg, is already proving to be a particularly astute purchase, with his dependable calmness and ability to play the ball under significant pressure clear for all to see. In the same connection, Rodrigo appears to have adjusted to the English game peerlessly, and his dynamic movement and technical quality have already become central to United’s proactive style. Brazilian trickster Raphinha will doubtless make a significant contribution once Bielsa has overseen his integration into the Leeds team, as will Diego Llorente, who has recently fought off an injury.

Perhaps most encouraging of all, though, has been how well existing members of the side have adapted to their new surroundings. Mateusz Klich, Stuart Dallas, Luke Ayling, Helder Costa, Jack Harrison, Ilian Meslier and Patrick Bamford have been particularly impressive.

Leicester have similarly enjoyed a bright start to the campaign. They have enjoyed some measure of success in the Europa League, having dispatched Ukrainian outfit FC Zorya Luhansk and Greek side AEK Athens, but most impressive of all have been their Premier League victories over Manchester City and Arsenal. In those successes especially, they have proven themselves to be a formidably clinical team. They prefer to dominate the ball, but they will have no qualms as to playing on the periphery if they cannot do so. Leeds will have to be at their best to secure victory.

Team news: nobody is safe

Over the past two years we have become accustomed to Marcelo Bielsa determining what his starting lineup will be well in advance of a match. It was therefore a little surprising to hear him declare in a recent press conference: “I don’t know my team, any of 22 players could start.”

The remark goes to prove just how intense competition for places in the United squad is at this moment. There is versatility and quality in abundance. It speaks once again to what a good transfer window the club enjoyed.

Kalvin Phillips and Adam Forshaw will play no part, as both are injured. It would be rather a shock if Patrick Bamford were to lose his starting berth after his heroics at Villa Park, but the same cannot be said of Pascal Struijk, who found himself replaced by Jamie Shackleton in the first half of last week’s fixture because of Bielsa’s concern about him potentially getting sent off.

Leicester, meanwhile, are without several players, especially in relation to the defensive positions. Timothy Castagne, Ricardo Pereira, Wilfred Ndidi, Daniel Amartey and Çağlar Söyüncü are all presently sidelined, though Jonny Evans could be available.

The managers' views:

United head coach Marcelo Bielsa:

“They’re a team who manage the ball well and have the spirit to attack.

“Vardy’s a very good player who scores lots of goals and he’s very quick.

“Of course we take into account all the characteristics of the opponents attackers, but there won’t be any particular change with that in mind.

“They’re a team who have been playing the same style of football for some time now.

“All the teams in the Premier League are at a very high level and they present to you, similar challenges.

“There are some teams who are above the rest, but the rest of the teams in general are all difficult to face.”

Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers:

"Leeds of course is notoriously a very tough place to go and of course if they had the backing of the supporters that would make it really difficult. But we know it's going to be a really difficult game either way and we have to be ready for that."

One to watch: Patrick Bamford (Leeds)

There were many doubts as to Patrick Bamford’s ability to shine at the lofty level of the Premier League, but the 27-year-old has made a mockery of this criticism with six goals to his credit so far. After his exquisite display against Aston Villa, few would bet against him conjuring another goal in this match. With his tireless running and admirable selflessness, Bamford is one of the most important cogs in Marcelo Bielsa’s machine.

The referee: Andre Marriner

The 49-year-old from Birmingham has overseen three Premier League matches this season, showing six yellow cards and no reds. Apropos of nothing, he is a supporter of Aston Villa, who did not do very well last week.

Prediction: Leeds United 2-1 Leicester

Photo: Action Images

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