Leeds United will be eager to register their first win of the 2021/22 Premier League campaign when they welcome Watford to Elland Road on Saturday afternoon.

Leeds were impressive on their comeback to the top-flight last campaign and eventually finished ninth in the standings. But there is no denying that Marcelo Bielsa’s men have had a rough start to the 2021/22 Premier League campaign as they are still looking for their first league win of the season.

The Whites are presently sitting 18th in the relegation zone with a mere return of 3 points from six games, having conceded 14 goals in the process – the second-highest in the league alongside a relegation-threatened Newcastle United.

There is still plenty of football left to be played this season, so it is not yet the time to worry. They are into the EFL Cup 4th round and were unfortunate not to come out at least a point in the dramatic 3-2 loss to West Ham last weekend. With another international break around the corner, the significance of this encounter is huge, particularly as a home game.

Watford, meanwhile, are a newly promoted side and taking into account their primary objective is to stay in the Premier League, they will certainly be happy with their decent start to the season, having won two, drawn one, and lost three of their six Premier League games to gain seven points, putting them in a comfortable 12th position heading into the Matchweek 7.

Xisco’s side registered an important 3-1 victory at Norwich City, an early-season relegation six-pointer. They are coming on the back of earning a good point at home in a 1-1 draw with Newcastle last weekend. ​Like Leeds, Watford will regard this as an important game, given their next two following games after the international break are against Liverpool and Everton. The Hard Tackle will now take a closer look at both squads.

Team News & Tactics

Leeds United

Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa revealed during Thursday’s pre-match media briefing that they have got a major injury boost with Raphinha and Diego Llorente available for selection this weekend. But players such as Robin Koch, Luke Ayling and Adam Forshaw are sidelined with injuries.

English forward Patrick Bamford is still out with an ankle injury, but defender Pascal Struijk has completed his three-match red card suspension and could start. Marcelo Bielsa is expected to deploy a 4-1-4-1 formation with intense pressing and man-marking at its heart.

Illan Meslier should stay between the sticks for the Whites. Guarding him will be the centre-back pairing of Pascal Struijk and captain Liam Cooper. Jamie Shackleton has performed admirably at right-back, filling in for Luke Ayling. He might stay in that role in order for Stuart Dallas to play in midfield. Junior Firpo should retain his position as the team’s left-back.

Bielsa may go with the same midfield trio of Mateusz Klich, Kalvin Phillips, and Dallas against Watford. Phillips will play a deeper, holding midfielder role, stitching up the play while protecting the back-four. Klich and Dallas will be allowed to roam freely and burst forward into the box.

Rodrigo will have to stay as Bielsa’s primary main striker. Raphinha is almost certain to start on the right flank for Leeds, while one of Daniel James and Jack Harrison will compete for the spot on the other flank. Youngsters Crysencio Summerville and Joe Gelhardt could be exciting backup options coming off the bench.

Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Meslier; Shackleton, Struijk, Cooper, Firpo; Phillips; Raphinha, Dallas, Klich, Harrison; Rodrigo

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Watford

Unlike his counterpart, Hornets’ boss Xisco Munoz does not have any fresh injury concerns, with only midfielder Peter Etebo set to face a lengthy injury lay-off and will be sidelined for at least four to five months a ruptured quad that he picked up in the game against Newcastle. In positive news, both midfielder Tom Cleverley and goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann have been declared fit to make the trip to Elland Road.

Xisco might go with the same 4-2-3-1 formation he used against Newcastle to great effect but is expected to make several personnel changes. Daniel Bachmann was club’s No.1 goalkeeping choice until he got injured; however, considering Ben Foster’s admirable job between the sticks, he might well keep his place in the goal.

William Troost-Ekong and Craig Cathcart will be assigned with the job to mark Leeds fluent attack and keep things solid at the back. Flanking them would be Kiko Femenia and Danny Rose, who will be conservative for the majority of the game but can push forwards to provide an outlet if needed.

Midfielder Ozan Tufan might be introduced into the starting XI. The Turkish international will be joining former Tottenham enforcer Moussa Sissoko in the visitors’ engine room. The duo of Ismaila Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis would add incredible pace and dynamism from the flanks, while Tom Cleverly would slot in the hole just behind the lone target-man Josh King.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Foster; Femenia, Troost-Ekong, Cathcart, Rose; Tufan, Sissoko; Sarr, Cleverley, Dennis; King

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Key Stats

  • The Whites have only met Watford twice in the Premier League, winning on both occasions 2-1 away and 3-1 at home in the 1999-2000 season.
  • Watford have won their last three away league fixtures against Leeds. The Hornets also edge out overall head to head record with the Yorkshire-based club (W11 D8 L8) from 25 meetings across all competitions.
  • Watford have scored at least three goals in each of their past three away games vs Leeds. The last times these sides faced off at Elland Road was back when they were in the Championship in 2015, when the Hornets won the game 3-2.
  • There have been over 2.5 goals scored in Leeds’s last five home fixtures, and they have conceded at least two goals in the last three home league games.
  • Leeds are winless from their last six Premier League games this campaign (D3 L3). They have never failed to emerge victorious in any of their first seven league games in any of their last 94 top-flight seasons in their proud history.

Player to watch for

Raphinha

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Since his arrival last summer, Raphinha has become an important part of Leeds’ success by providing a creative impetus with his flair, dribbling and vision. Marcelo Bielsa’s system is extremely demanding, both physically and mentally. Players need to make the right decisions while they are on the ball otherwise, their defence can be completely exposed. This approach reduces creativity from every Leeds’ player, but Raphinha balances the system with his unpredictable nature.

The Brazilian is a consistent joy to watch. He is very calm and composed on the ball, can drive forwards through teams with his exceptional ball control and has an eye for goal. He has already netted thrice from six games so far this season and is taking 3.2 shots per game – a fairly high volume considering he’s only a winger. With Bamford injured for this game, Raphinha will have an added responsibility to provide the much-needed goals.

Prediction

Leeds United 3-1 Watford

Looking from the outside, one can say Leeds’ have had a dismal start to the season, but the performances on the pitch haven’t changed, slick free-flowing attack brand of football is still intact. Also, they have been unlucky with injuries and results. An exciting open game is expected this Saturday, with the Whites’ desperate to get back on track with a convincing win.

Watford are a very capable side, and Xisco sets his side up in an organized manner to make it hard for the opponent. However, they are very one dimensional going forward and over-reliant on the lightning pace of Ismaila Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis. We expect Leeds United to exploit visitors’ weaknesses to reduce their overall impact by keeping a close watch on them both.

Hence, The Hard tackle predicts a 3-1 victory for the Whites’ at home this weekend in what would be a crucial result for Marcelo Bielsa & co. to kickstart their campaign finally.

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