Relegation-threatened Leeds United will hope to secure their first win under new manager Jesse Marsch when they play hosts to Aston Villa on Thursday.

Jesse Marsch could not provide the quick fix Leeds fans hoped for as the Whites lost narrowly to Leicester City in his first game in charge. The display was still a vast improvement on some of their recent games, where the Yorkshire side leaked way too many goals. While defensive solidity was instantly evident, the American boss will hope his team shows their attacking fluidity against Aston Villa on Thursday.

Leeds are not in a position to sit back and let the new manager take time to develop the team in his own image. They do not have the means to do it now, as they are in the middle of a relegation dogfight, sitting just two points adrift of 18th-placed Burnley on the table.

The relegation battle is turning out to be an interesting one. As many as five teams are now in the mix to drop out, with Newcastle United manoeuvering their way out of it after some terrific results in recent weeks. Leeds United desperately need a win to ease some pressure off their shoulders and put some distance between them and the drop zone.

Their opponent, Aston Villa, come into this game in flying form. Steven Gerrard has finally found some stability and consistency, heading into an important part of the season. Their most recent match saw the Villans thrash Southampton 4-0 at home and now intend to march on further.

Aston Villa, who are currently 11th in the table, are not involved in the race for European places, nor in any danger of getting dragged into the relegation battle. So, Gerrard’s main focus would be to lead the team into the top half of the table and ensure that they finish the season there. However, there is a race brewing between Villa, Crystal Palace, Brighton, Southampton and Leicester City to finish in the top ten.

Team News & Tactics

Leeds United

Leo Hjelde and Tyler Roberts are certain absentees for Leeds United while the likes of Kalvin Phillips and Liam Cooper are still somewhat short of full match fitness. The manager earmarked the games after the international break for the duo’s return to action.

However, in more positive news, Adam Forshaw and Diego Llorente could be fit to start after the duo recovered and participated in full training this week. Jesse Marsch confirmed his intention to start the pair against Villa.

Meanwhile, star striker Patrick Bamford could return to action against the Villans. The English striker did make the bench against Leicester, and Marsch confirmed he would again be among the substitutes, although the chances of him featuring at some point are high.

Marsch will likely stick with his formula of playing Daniel James in the No. 9 role, with Rodrigo operating as a second-striker, just behind the Welshman. Raphinha should keep his place on the right side of the attack, with Jack Harrison the preferred choice on the left flank.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Meslier; Dallas, Ayling, Llorente, Firpo; Koch, Klich; Raphinha, Rodrigo, Harrison; James

Aston Villa

Steven Gerrard will have a near-full squad at his disposal ahead of the Leeds game, with only Marvelous Nakamba the confirmed absentee. Carney Chukwuemeka, Ezri Konsa and Lucas Digne are all fit again and pushing for a place in the lineup. However, after Southampton’s 4-0 thrashing, Gerrard is unlikely to make many changes to his team and may continue with the same personnel barring a few essential tweaks.

After Calum Chambers impressed during their win over the Saints, Gerrard will be tempted to continue with the former Arsenal defender alongside Tyrone Mings at the heart of the Aston Villa defence. So, there could be no place for Konsa in the lineup on Thursday. However, the manager could make a change at left-back with Digne replacing the versatile Ashley Young.

Key attackers such as Leon Bailey and Emiliano Buendia will also remain on the bench as the front two of Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins could be preferred again, with Philippe Coutinho placed firmly behind them in the No. 10 position.

No alterations are expected in midfield either with Jacob Ramsey the firm choice to marshall the left side, with John McGinn on the other end. Douglas Luiz will essay the holding role in the centre of the park.

Probable Lineup (4-3-1-2): Martinez; Cash, Chambers, Mings, Digne; McGinn, Luiz, Ramsey; Coutinho; Ings, Watkins

Key Stats

  • Leeds United have lost their last five Premier League games.
  • Leeds have failed to score in five of their last seven Premier League games.
  • Leeds United have conceded 18 goals in their last five games in the Premier League.
  • Aston Villa have managed just a single win against Leeds in their last five domestic encounters.
  • Patrick Bamford is one short of 100 career league goals. He has had only 22 minutes of Premier League playing time since mid-September because of injury.

Player to Watch

Philippe Coutinho

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The Brazilian made an instant impact upon his arrival in the January transfer window, playing a starring role against Manchester United on his debut. His performance against Southampton was once again top-notch and will certainly encourage manager Steven Gerrard to afford him more freedom so that he can work his magic in the final third.

The manager has already hinted that Villa would consider signing the Barcelona loanee on a permanent transfer. More good performances from the 29-year-old playmaker could further strengthen resolve to get their man permanently at the end of the season.

Prediction

Leeds United 1-2 Aston Villa

Leeds will be hoping for the new manager bounce to make its presence felt in Jesse Marsch’s second game in charge. They are also likely to show further improvement from their performance against Leicester. However, the Villa game may have come at the wrong time for the Yorkshire side.

The Villans were at their rampaging best against Southampton. The team looks settled and full of ideas, especially with Coutinho’s creative role. Expect Villa to take three points at Elland Road and pile further pressure on Leeds in their relegation battle.

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