Leeds United vs Huddersfield Town preview: A West Yorkshire derby with implications at both ends of the table
(Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images)

As Yorkshire derbies go, Saturday's clash between high-flying Leeds United and neighbours Huddersfield Town at Elland Road doesn't come much bigger, with season-defining implications at either end of the Sky Bet Championship table at stake.

On paper, recent form makes for a mouth-watering prospect, with both clubs in buoyant mood following emphatic 4-0 victories over Hull City & Charlton Athletic respectively.

Following a period of just two wins in 10 outings over the festive period and January, Marcelo Bielsa's Whites find themselves second with a five point cushion over Fulham.

A recent four-game winning run, including a trio of narrow triumphs by a single goal, has instilled a sense of optimism once again and has rejuvenated hopes of holding on to that all-important promotion place as the run-in begins to unfold.

Huddersfield, meanwhile, head across the M62 full of confidence on the back of valuable consecutive home wins, having despatched play-off chasers Bristol City before claiming that much-needed win against fellow strugglers Charlton.

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Despite accompanying those performances with six goals to ease  fears surrounding goal difference, the Terriers still sit amongst the relegation pack in 17th, four points ahead of Middlesbrough who occupy the final spot within the bottom three.

Consistency on the road hasn't been Town's strong suit over the course of the mid-season period. They've only picked up maximum points once in the previous eight encounters on their travels- thanks to an injury time winner at Hull in late January- to add to just three previous away successes under Danny Cowley at Stoke, Brentford and Charlton.

United, though, haven't had it easy at Elland Road following the draw with Cardiff City in December, where three second-half efforts from the 10-man Bluebirds snatched a point from 3-0 down to initiate the rockiest path Bielsa and his team had to negotiate throughout what had been a relatively positive campaign up to that point.

Frustrating home defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic, coupled with a Boxing Day stalemate with Preston North End, were soon left in the past as the recent purple patch of form gained traction with convincing yet hardly clinical performances against Bristol City and Reading.

PREVIOUS MEETINGS

This particular derby has been a common date in the diary over the last 15 years; before a 2004 Carling Cup meeting, in which United prevailed 2-1, you'd have to go all the way back to 1987 for the last time that these two played a competitive fixture.

Over a three year period from 2007 to 2010, both Leeds and Huddersfield were League One outfits, with the Terriers winning three out of six fixtures played, two draws and just the sole victory- a 4-0 thrashing at Elland Road- for the Whites under former boss, Dennis Wise.

As United secured promotion to the Championship in 2010, it took this weekend's opponents a further two years to reach divisional parity with their local rivals.

Since, Town have visited their neighbours on five occasions; their last occurring in September of the 2016-17 promotion winning campaign, where Australian midfielder Aaron Mooy netted the only goal in a 1-0 victory.

Town's other two victories away from home in this fixture at Championship level both arrived in the month of March; the first being a 2-1 triumph in 2013, before a 4-1 score-line in 2016 matching their biggest margin of victory at Elland Road since September 1960.

2014-15 was the last campaign which saw United complete a league double over their county rivals, and a home win on Saturday would do just that after goals from Ezgjan Alioski and Pablo Hernandez wrapped up the points in a brisk lunchtime fixture back in early December at the John Smith's Stadium.

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TEAM TALK

Bielsa rarely tends to chop and change with his starting line ups, opting to name a familiar eleven in the majority of fixtures throughout the season bar the inevitable hurdle of enforced suspensions or injuries.

However, with his side considerably topping the charts in the 'shots on target' category, the clinical edge has certainly been lacking, as the Whites have found the net just 54 times from 192 attempts. 

Patrick Bamford (12) is United's leading goal scorer- despite last scoring against Millwall in January- and it has been contributions from midfield, in particular Mateusz Klich (4), Pablo Hernandez and Jack Harrison (5) who have preserved the elusive status of that final automatic promotion spot in the short-term.

History suggests that Saturday's Leeds side won't necessarily witness many changes, if any, although Tyler Roberts marked his return from a lengthy injury lay-off with a quickfire double off the bench in East Yorkshire last time out to strengthen his claim for a starting berth. 

At the other end, the Elland Road outfit have accumulated an impressive 16 clean sheets in 36 games, to Huddersfield's eight- and just three since the turn of the year, in which they have gone on to claim all three points- but the latter have only scored nine less than their hosts, and possess a substantial threat on the attacking front themselves in the shape of the talismanic Karlan Grant.

Grant is far and away Town's leading marksman with 16 goals for the season, with three in the last two including a brace against former employers Charlton.

Benin international Steve Mounie's return to form has been a welcome boost, as the physical frontman has notched a further seven to his collection in the aftermath of a pre-Christmas success against Nottingham Forest.

Having completed the signing of experienced free agent Danny Simpson within a matter of weeks at the helm, Danny Cowley acted swiftly to bolster the ranks in the January transfer window, adding Arsenal starlet Emile Smith-Rowe, Benfica winger Chris Willock, central defender Richard Stearman and left-back Harry Toffolo, an influential figure in the Cowley brothers' rise to prominence at Lincoln City.

Fan favourite Jonas Lössl also made a return to West Yorkshire, signing a loan deal to the end of the season from Everton.

All six recruits have played important roles within the Terriers fold to date, and look set to rack up another club appearance in this weekend's encounter. Juninho Bacuna may also be in contention on the back of several imposing displays in the heart of the midfield. 

United will be without goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, who will serve the second game of an eight match ban, whereas January recruit Jean-Kevin Augustin may return to the bench having missed the trips to Middlesbrough and Hull with a training knock. 

Adam Forshaw is the home side's only long-term absentee, and will miss the remainder of the season following surgery on a hip injury.

The visitors will also be without the services of a goalkeeper, Kamil Grabara, with Tommy Elphick and Jonathan Hogg also sidelined. 

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