Leeds United will look to make it three wins on the bounce in the Premier League when they host Newcastle United at Elland Road on Saturday.
An injury-ravaged Leeds United defeated West Ham United 3-2 in a thrilling contest at the London Stadium last weekend, putting up one of their finest attacking performances of the 2021/22 Premier League season. Jack Harrison rediscovered his scoring form to net a brilliant hat-trick as the Whites lifted themselves nine points clear of the relegation zone.
Having gained instant revenge after being knocked out of the FA Cup by West Ham United, things are looking up for Leeds after enduring a wholly forgettable first half of the campaign. Boasting an unblemished league win record in 2022, Marcelo Bielsa’s side will certainly be aiming to extend their winning streak in order to move up the table.
Although Leeds’ defensive woes are well documented – their tally of 39 goals conceded is the most outside the teams in the relegation zone and they have shipped 19 of those strikes in their last seven top-flight matches – their opponents have an even worse defensive record.
Having shipped a whopping 43 goals after 20 games, Newcastle have the second-worst tally in the top-flight, keeping just one clean sheet all season. The Magpies have also lost a massive 21 points from winning positions this season, with their failure to see out games costing them dearly.
It was the same old story in their latest league game against Watford. After Allan Saint-Maximin’s stellar solo goal put the Magpies ahead, Eddie Howe’s side seemed to be running away with the much-needed three points until Joao Pedro headed home the equaliser with three minutes remaining on the clock, crushing the home crowd’s optimism.
The reverse fixture at St. James’ Park in September last year ended in a 1-1 draw, but the Whites ran out comfortable 5-2 winners in the corresponding fixture last season. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
💬 “They’ve been close to all of their opponents” Marcelo gives his thoughts ahead of Saturday’s clash
— Leeds United (@LUFC) January 20, 2022
Leeds’ win over West Ham United came at a cost, as both Junior Firpo and Adam Forshaw limped off early with thigh issues. The duo will be out of contention here, although the latter has downplayed the problem as a minor injury. Marcelo Bielsa is set to be without as many as eight first-team players, with Patrick Bamford, Charlie Cresswell, Liam Cooper, Kalvin Phillips, Jamie Shackleton and Sam Greenwood all ruled out for this clash.
Bielsa will set his side up in a 4-2-3-1 setup but will again be forced into reshuffling the personnel owing to the unavailability of Firpo and Forshaw. Illan Meslier will function in goal, where he will be shielded by the central defensive pairing of Pascal Struijk and Diego Llorente.
The latter returns from a ban, and his availability at the heart of the backline means Luke Ayling is likely to move across into a more familiar right-back position, while utility man Stuart Dallas could fill in at left-back for this game.
Bielsa will ask both his full-backs to keep a good defensive shape to prevent Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser from getting in behind them while also pushing forward to help out the attack. Robin Koch will act as the Whites’ main anchorman in the midfield, with Mateusz Klich providing defensive support and box-to-box presence.
Raphinha will be Leeds’ best source for a goal as he functions as the right-sided winger, while Jack Harrison will hope to keep up his goalscoring touch down the left flank after scoring a hat-trick last time out.
Rodrigo will look to create some decent opportunities while offering his exceptional work rate in the attacking midfield role. Daniel James will spearhead the line by reprising the false 9 role with his incisive runs and tremendous pace posing a serious threat for opposing defences.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Meslier; Ayling, Llorente, Struijk, Dallas; Koch, Klich; Raphinha, Rodrigo, Harrison; James
Callum Wilson is still a long way off returning, with the Newcastle talisman facing another six weeks out on the sidelines. Isaac Hayden has also had his recovery scheduled for March, while Ciaran Clark is still suffering from COVID-19. Jamal Lewis will be assessed ahead of the game, but Newcastle’s injury woes seem to have eased of late.
In a piece of positive news for Eddie Howe, central defender Federico Fernandez has returned to full training. Still, the weekend’s match may come too soon for the Argentine defender after a month-long layoff, while Javier Manquillo is back from a ban to bolster Howe’s defensive options.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) January 19, 2022
Eddie Howe is once again expected to set up the Magpies in a 4-5-1 formation, with front-foot pressing and holding possession the key to his style of play. Martin Dubravka will operate in goal for the Tyneside giants. Fabian Schar could start alongside Jamaal Lascelles at the heart of the defence as they try to keep Newcastle’s only second clean sheet of the season.
Javier Manquillo may be shoehorned into the left-back slot given the presence of winter signing Kieran Trippier on the right flank. The English international combined well with winger Ryan Fraser in the last game, and both will be hoping to feed the forward line with some quality crosses into the box.
Jonjo Shelvey will be pulling the strings from a deep-lying holding midfield role, with Sean Longstaff and Joelinton the supporting cast in a midfield trio. The Brazilian will also be tasked to provide some thrust to Newcastle’s attacks with his incredible drive and progressive abilities.
Allan Saint-Maximin and Fraser will look to provide some spark in the final third from wide areas, while Chris Wood will be looking to get himself on the scoresheet operating down the middle.
Probable Lineup (4-5-1): Dubravka; Trippier, Lascelles, Schar, Dummett; Fraser, Longstaff, Shelvey, Joelinton, Saint-Maximin; Wood
- Leeds United are undefeated in their last three top-flight outings with Newcastle United (W2 D1).
- The latest match-up between the two sides at Elland Road had ended in a 5-2 victory for the hosts. However, Newcastle United have not lost successive games at this ground since 1972.
- The Peacocks won just three of their first 18 Premier League matches this season (D7 L8) but have already won back-to-back league games in the first month of 2022 so far and can equal the tally here.
- Should Leeds United beat Newcastle United, it will be the first time since 1973 that they have won the opening three league matches of the calendar year.
- Newcastle United had only one win after 20 Premier League matches this term. Only West Bromwich Albion in 2004/05 have avoided relegation despite winning only one of their first 20 Premier League games.
- The Magpies have conceded at least two goals in each of their last three away top-flight games matches.
Player to Watch
The Brazilian attacker is, without doubt, Leeds United’s best and most important attacking player in the absence of Patrick Bamford. After a couple of relatively quiet games, Raphinha showed how dangerous an attacking threat he can be when firing on all cylinders against West Ham United with his flair, creativity, dribbling ability and stupendous close control.
The 25-year-old has scored eight goals and provided two assists from 18 league appearances this season. And it seems his impressive displays have not gone unnoticed on the continent, with European giants Bayern Munich keeping track of his progress. With Newcastle’s backline finding it difficult to keep things tight at the back, the Leeds star may cause major problems for the visitors on Saturday afternoon.
Leeds United 2-2 Newcastle United
Leeds put in a solid display to beat a high-flying West Ham side 3-2 in the capital last weekend, and back-to-back wins have seen the Whites getting back on track. While their medical room does not appear to be emptying anytime soon, their young players have really stepped up.
Despite their disappointing bottom-half position, Leeds have been relatively good at Elland Road in recent weeks, and their attack could flourish against this porous Magpies defence.
While the Magpies’ away record has been poor, there have been clear signs of improvements under Eddie Howe’s stewardship, and better results should follow the positive work on and off the field sooner or later. With both sides defensively fragile, The Hard Tackle predicts an entertaining 2-2 draw at Elland Road on Saturday afternoon.