Leeds United suffered a defeat in their return to league football when they lost against Cardiff City at home, last Sunday. The Whites have dropped down to second, with West Bromwich Albion now leading them by a point. Leeds United will face off against third-placed Fulham at Elland Road on Saturday, which could be a key fixture in determining which of the two sides will finish in the top two.
The gap between the two sides could go down to just four points if Fulham get the win over Leeds. In the reverse fixture, Fulham narrowly beat the Whites 2-1. Let’s take a look at 3 key battles in the game between Leeds United and Fulham.
Aleksandar Mitrovic vs Liam Cooper
Fulham have scored 54 goals in the Championship this season, with more than half – 23 goals – coming from former Newcastle United striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbian is the leading scorer in the league, one ahead of Ollie Watkins of Brentford.
Mitrovic will be a handful for the Leeds defence and he should not be given any time or space in and around the penalty box. Leeds captain Liam Cooper should closely mark the 25-year-old, especially when the ball is in the air, which is Mitrovic’s strong point. If the Whites can keep Mitrovic quiet, they have a big opportunity to win the game.
Joe Bryan vs Luke Ayling
After Mitrovic, Leeds full-back Joe Bryan has been the most impressive Fulham player. The left-back is strong in the tackle and has also chipped in with a few assists (7) in the league this season. Bryan is a solid tackler, but is also a good passer from the back. If he’s given the space he could attack and cause some trouble to Leeds’ right side.
Leeds United right-back Luke Ayling is one of the most consistent players in the Whites’ squad. The 28-year-old was in a rich vein of form before the league was halted, scoring in two consecutive games. If Bielsa opts to play defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips as a third centre back, Ayling could be given the freedom to burst forward. This would be a strong duel between two full-backs.
Mateusz Klich vs Tom Cairney
30-year-old midfielder Mateusz Klich has had a decent season for Leeds, playing every minute of each game in the league this season. He will be up against Fulham captain Tom Cairney in the middle of the park, who has chipped in with goals and assists this season. Cairney has racked up 8 goals from midfield as well as registered 3 assists.
Stopping Cairney get on the ball and dictate the tempo of the match could help Leeds prevail over the Cottagers.