Leeds United are looking to push further up the Premier League table when they lock horns with Aston Villa at Elland Road on Saturday.
Leeds United moved into the top half of the Premier League with a convincing with a 3-0 win over Southampton in midweek. It was also the scoreline when they had locked horns with Aston Villa earlier in the campaign, so Marcelo Bielsa’s men are hoping for a similar result when his side welcomes the Villans at the Elland Road on Saturday.
The Whites have endured a topsy-turvy run of form in February, with Bielsa struggling to find the right balance after the injury of key player Kalvin Phillips. Indeed, they have lost three and won two in five league matches so far this month, and will be looking to bring that record a level by securing all three points this weekend.
Aston Villa, though, are no slouch, despite their recent defeat to Leicester City. Although they may attain just a one-point advantage over their opponent heading into this game, Dean Smith’s men do have a game in hand. In addition, the club has fared rather well defensively since their 3-0 debacle in the reverse fixture.
It was evident in Villa’s win over Arsenal as well as the subsequent draw with Brighton & Hove Albion. While a defeat to Leicester did disrupt their progress, a win on Saturday could help them maintain pressure on the likes of Everton and even Liverpool as far as the league table is concerned, with a European spot still pretty much up for grabs, even for a tenth-placed Leeds United.
Here, at the Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over the two sides ahead of this enticing Premier League encounter at the Elland Road this weekend.
Tactics & Team News
Marcelo Bielsa employed an interesting three at the back setup in the recent win to Southampton. However, he is unlikely to persist with the formula against an Aston Villa side that favours a 4-2-3-1, meaning the defensive trifecta of Diego Llorente, Pascal Struijk and Liam Cooper could be dissolved.
That said, Struijk has been in great form recently and could be rewarded with another start, though in the number six position as Kalvin Phillips continues his spell on the sidelines.
Mateusz Klich was also suffering from a niggle, but is likely to return to full fitness, partnering alongside Tyler Roberts in the advanced midfield positions. The Pole’s aggression, combined with his ability to release those forward passes should be essential in the continued absence of Rodrigo.
The Leeds attack should also be reliant on the services of Raphinha and Jack Harrison, terms of chance creation, with Patrick Bamford hoping to maintain a relatively impressive scoring run in 2021.
Defensively, Bielsa’s side still does have issues when dealing with set-pieces. Llorente had a decent time in the last game but needs to appear stronger in central defence alongside Cooper. The Spaniard’s ability to thread those laser passes out from the back should improve Leeds’ build-up from the back, though, ultimately allowing the two fullbacks in Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas to push forward likely they usually do.
Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Meslier; Ayling, Llorente, Cooper, Dallas; Struijk; Raphinha, Klich, Roberts, Harrison; Bamford
Much like Marcelo Bielsa, Dean Smith doesn’t favour too many chops and changes to his core setup, so a traditional 4-23–1 could be on the agenda once again, with Ollie Watkins spearheading the frontline.
The former Brentford man endured a difficult time in the reverse fixture but has come a long way since. His pace, dynamism and movement could cause all sorts of problems for a Leeds backline that is yet to fine-tune itself due to a series of injury problems throughout the campaign so far.
Watkins’ supply crew could be minimised though, thanks to Jack Grealish being a doubt heading into this counter. Although Smith does hope to have the English international available on Saturday, he remains unlikely to start, as Aston Villa continue with the creative trifecta of Bertrand Traore, Ross Barkley and Anwar El Ghazi.
There shouldn’t too many changes in midfield or defence either, with the pairing of Douglas Luiz and John McGinn trying to screen the backline in the double-pivot. McGinn, though, could push forward in an attempt to cover for the absence of Grealish. His driving runs can always be dangerous for Bielsa’s men.
Dean Smith has another option up his sleeves in Morgan Sanson. The former Marseille midfielder, who was signed in January, could either replace Barkley or one of the midfielders in the second half, depending on the situation. He does provide additional creativity to the table.
The biggest for Aston Villa this weekend, however, lies in the defensive unit where the back four of Ahmed Elmohamady, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings and Matt Target will be dealt with the difficult task of keeping one of the most dangerous attacks in the league quiet. They had shipped in three goals in the reverse fixture, so it will be interesting to see whether Smith opts for a deeper defensive line this weekend.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Martinez; Elmohamady, Konsa, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Luiz; Traore, Barkley, El Ghazi; Watkins
- Leeds United are looking to complete their first league double over Aston Villa since the 1975-76 campaign, following their 3-0 win at Villa Park earlier this season.
- Aston Villa have just two of their last 17 away league games against Leeds United, with those victories coming in January and December 2000.
- Leeds United are looking to win consecutive league games against Aston Villa for the first time since April/August 1995. In the Premier League, the Whites have lost just one of their last eight meetings with the Villans.
- Only Manchester United (17), Liverpool (14) and Newcastle United (14) have won more Premier League away games in Yorkshire than Aston Villa (13). However, the Villans have failed to score in their last three top-flight visitors to the county since beating Hull City 2-0 in April 2010.
- Leeds United have lost five of their eight Premier League games played on Saturdays this season, while Aston Villa are unbeaten in their last six Saturday league games, keeping a clean sheet each time.
1. Leeds United to win @ 2.15
1. Patrick Bamford to score anytime @ 2.05
Player to Watch
Is Raphinha the signing of the summer? 🇧🇷 pic.twitter.com/ulWFKpGBff
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 23, 2021
Raphinha is the undisputed key player for Leeds United, having emerged as one of the rising stars in the Premier League this season. A right-winger by trade, his influence on the far side his immense, particularly due to his blistering speed, tricky movements and a seemingly telepathic combination play with teammates like Harrison and Bamford.
Raphinha starred in the recent win over Southampton as well, notably scoring the late goal while absolutely terrorising Jan Bednarek.It makes the Brazilian the biggest danger for the Aston Villa defence, who were only dealt with the challenge of Helder Costa in the reverse fixture.
So it will be a completely different experience for the left-back Matt Targett, who needs to remain cautious and appear wise with his decision making, as far as his marauding into the opposing half is concerned. Their personal duel on the flanks is certainly one of the things worth keeping an eye on this weekend.
Leeds United 2-2 Aston Villa
Although Leeds United have only drawn two games in the entire campaign, one here seems plausible as two sides are well matched and are missing at least two of their respective key players (Rodrigo & Phillips for Leeds, Matty Cash & Grealish for Villa). In addition, they have both endured a mixed run of form, of late.
However, it still promises to be an entertaining affair as both these teams have impressive offensive firepower. Leeds United may have the upper head due to better form in 2021, but they might face difficulties in keeping the Villans quiet, having already conceded as many as 43 goals this season.