Leeds United have pleasantly surprised many following an incredible start to the new campaign under the iconic Marcelo Bielsa, their new gaffer, who seems to have transformed them into promotion contenders from a mere mid-table outfit. They are currently top of the Championship standings and are yet to lose a game.
Boro, too, are yet to taste defeat under Tony Pulis this term and are only behind Leeds on goal difference. This Yorkshire derby, therefore, will have a huge bearing on the season despite it being early days.
Let us take a look at 3 key battles which will have an impact on the outcome of this highly anticipated clash.
Bielsa vs Pulis – Battle of Two Conflicting Philosophies
Bielsa, the former Argentina and Chile chief, is regarded as the pioneer of modern football with creative formations, rigorous analysis and an exciting brand of football. Pulis, on the other hand, is often criticized for his one-note defensive footballing tactics (also known as ‘Pulisball’) which is not eye-soothing but has been effective throughout his managerial career with several English clubs.
El Loco has injected his philosophy successfully but might struggle against the Welshman who knows the football in this country inside out.
Leeds’ Wingplay vs Boro’s ‘Back Five’
Leeds are mostly stretching the opponents wide using the width of the pitch which, in turn, is creating space in the deep defence and allowing them to knock down their depleted counterparts. Pablo Hernandez, Ezgjan Alioski and Kemar Roofe have formed a lethal front trio whereas Patrick Bamford, the summer signing from Boro, can cause a lot of trouble for his employers if introduced from the bench later on.
Pulis, however, is well aware of Leeds’ strategy and is likely to line up a three-man backline of Daniel Ayala, Dael Fry and Aden Flint which, eventually, will form a ‘back five’ with Ryan Shotton and George Friend, the wing-backs who are tipped to switch to a deeper role than usual. Both Alioski and Hernandez, therefore, will have an added layer of protection.
The Battle Of Midfield
A midfield of Adam Clayton, Jonny Howson and Stewart Downing possesses profound experience but lacks pace or enough creativity which might make it difficult for them to take control of the midfield against the likes of Kalvin Phillips, Samuel Saiz and Mateusz Klich who are younger, sharper and more inventive with a varied skill set.
Phillips, a great distributor, has strong vision whereas Klich is a proper box-to-box midfield resource with an eye for goal. Saiz has pace, is a great dribbler and has swift footwork that helps him in congested areas and enables him to open up spaces in the final third with his ability to engage multiple players.