With eighteen league places separating Leeds United and Middlesbrough, Saturday’s game reflects two sides enduring opposite starts to the season.
Leeds have shown no signs of despondence in the wake of last season’s play-off heartbreak. Marcelo Bielsa’s side sit second in the table, four points better off than this stage last season and look to be hitting their stride as we enter the busy winter period.
As for Boro, this time last season Tony Pulis had his men second in the table and a massive seventeen points better off than Jonathan Woodgate’s side this campaign.
There will be some added drama at the weekend, with the game a return to Elland Road for Woodgate and his backroom staff. The defender made his professional debut for Leeds in 1998 and went on to make over one hundred appearances for the club. He’ll be joined in the dugout by more former Leeds faces, Robbie Keane and Gordon McQueen.
The home side, who despite blips against the likes of Millwall and Charlton Athletic, are beginning to demonstrate their standing as one of the better teams in the league. The Whites have enjoyed four straight victories, conceding just two goals in the process.
The West Yorkshire outfit are seven games unbeaten and have opened up a five-point gap over third place Fulham. They have lost just one of their home games this season, with that coming against Swansea City way back at the end of August.
For Woodgate’s Middlesbrough, they are on the search for back to back wins for the first time this season. Last time out Boro narrowly defeated bottom of the table Barnsley courtesy of an Ashley Fletcher tap-in, extending their unbeaten run to three games.
However, Boro are yet to win on the road season, losing four and drawing four of their eight games away from the Riverside Stadium.
Woodgate’s first season of management has not gone to place so far. Middlesbrough sit 20th in the table just one point above the relegation zone and thirteen off the play-off places.
What to Expect
Even with the unpredictable nature of the EFL Championship, this fixture is unlikely to throw up any surprises.
Leeds’ record of conceding just ten goals in eighteen games this season ranks easily as the best defensive in the division, with only four of those coming at Elland Road. Kiko Casilla has a huge nine clean sheets to his name, again the best record in the league.
Their solid defence is met with the joint worst attack; Middlesbrough have scored just sixteen goals this season, with no team failing to find the back of the net as little as Woodgate’s side.
The home side tends to dictate possession throughout the match, averaging 60% per game compared to their oppositions 48%, meaning Leeds will look to hold onto the ball and create goalscoring opportunities as Boro attempt to soak up the pressure.
Leeds also have one of the more potent attacks in the division. Their record of sixteen shots per game is the highest in the league, yet their failure to convert chances means they rank just tenth for goals for.
Leeds look unwavering at the back and their fine defensive form has much to do with on loan Brighton and Hove Albion man Ben White. Going forward Jack Harrison has four goals and four assists this season and looks to be the creative output for the Whites.
However, coming up against his old club Patrick Bamford will have a point to prove against the side he won Championship Player of the Year with back in 2015. Bamford left North Yorkshire for the West at the start of last season and has faced his critics since joining Elland Road.
Finding the net six times this season, his goal return isn’t too bad, yet Leeds fans believe this figure should be way into double figures with the amount of chances squandered by their number nine. With a goal in his last home game, Bamford will be looking to keep the momentum going and punish his former side.
Good performances have been hard to come by for Middlesbrough this season. Defensively poor, they’ll be hoping last seasons PFA Team of the Year ‘keeper Darren Randolph is back fit for the journey to Elland Road.
Boro’s major threat is Britt Assombalonga. The striker was signed from Nottingham Forest for a club record fee of £15 million back in 2017 and has six goals to his name so far this season. If Boro are to trouble United’s defence it’s likely goals will come from the Congolese international.
A win for Leeds could see them top depending on results elsewhere. As for Middlesbrough defeat could see them drop inside the relegation zone as pressure continues to mount on Woodgate.