Friday night sees the top of the table clash between Leeds and Middlesbrough at Elland Road. The game promises to be the biggest test so far of Marcelo Bielsa’s reign at Leeds.
Middlesbrough has kept four consecutive clean sheets in the league whereas Leeds has scored a minimum of two goals per game. Leeds has won four of the last five meetings of the teams in West Yorkshire. The game looks set to be a tight affair with Tony Pulis expected to set up his side to defend deep and counter-attack the whites on every possible occasion.
Steve McClaren’s QPR has won two successive games in the past week to quell the calls for his dismissal by the club’s fans. The West London side makes the trip to Birmingham on Saturday hoping to keep their winning run going. QPR have won the last three meetings of the teams in all competitions while the home side has failed to win any of their previous five league matches. Gary Monk is under immense pressure to get the Blues back up the table, and he will be targeting this home game as a must win if Birmingham plans to stay clear of another relegation fight this season.
Brentford suffered a disappointing defeat to newly promoted Blackburn last week. Star striker Neal Maupay, who was suspended for the loss in Lancashire is expected to return to the starting team for the Bees, who welcome unbeaten Nottingham Forest to Griffin Park. Aitor Karanka’s Forest side will be buoyed by their midweek League Cup victory over Newcastle with goal scorers Joao Carvalho and Michael Hefele pushing for starting places on Saturday.
Derby County secured a precious home win last week to put an end to their two-game losing streak. Frank Lampard’s philosophy to encourage his defenders to pass out from the back has so far backfired this season. Hull will likely try to press up high and close down the Derby defence and force long balls to be played up the forwards. Hull manager Nigel Adkins knows that his side will need to start winning their home games if the club wants to steer clear of the bottom three.
Bolton’s fantastic winning start to the season was derailed by losing to Sheffield United last Saturday. The three-nill scoreline could have been much worse, and manager Phil Parkinson will be looking for his side to bounce back away at local rivals Preston. Preston produced a gritty display to win away at Leeds in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday. Preston’s poor defensive record so far in the league has put extra pressure on their misfiring attackers. Preston’s possession-based approach will likely see them dominate the possession meaning that they will need their strikeforce to be much more clinical.
Bottom of the table Reading has endured a disastrous start to the season. Two successive draws have put an end to their losing run, but in truth, they are struggling in all departments. Sheffield Wednesday who are under a transfer embargo, have won their last two games to ease the tension amongst their fan base. Scottish international midfielder Barry Bannan has come to fore and has given the South Yorkshire side a clinical edge over the past two games. Reading boss, Paul Clement must be fearful of being cut adrift at the bottom of the league if they do not claim a league win soon.
Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa has drawn their last three league matches and is still unbeaten. The Villains travel to Bramall Lane to face a Sheffield United side, who themselves are on a three-match winning run. Yannick Boalsie, the recent loan signing from Everton, is expected to make his league debut for Villa while Irish attacking midfielder Conor Hourihane is likely to be recalled to the starting eleven. Chris Wilder has gotten his team to play an expansive attacking style, and they have scored at least two goals during their three-game winning streak. Another tight game is expected between two teams who will be hoping to finish in the top six at the end of the season.
It’s the clash of two of the relegated side at the Hawthorns, with both managers under pressure to remedy the awful form of these early promotion favourites. Stoke produced a scrappy display to secure their opening win of the season at home to Hull last week. Gary Rowett has spent heavily to ensure that the Potters will be competing for an immediate return to the Premier League. Darren Moore is likely to name the same West Brom team who lost to a late goal at Middlesbrough last Friday.
Wigan manager Paul Cook is likely to make a few changes to his starting side following last week’s poor showing at QPR. Reece James is pushing hard for a place on the right wing for the home side that is up against Rotherham this weekend. The Millers have struggled defensively in their opening five games and will likely return to a four-man midfield to accommodate their winger Jon Taylor. Wigan has shown their attacking strengths at home so far, and this looks to be another tough away trip for Rotherham.
Millwall has lost their last two league matches and welcomes recently relegated Swansea to The Den in the late game on Saturday. Millwall will likely be missing the creative play of Northern Ireland international George Saville who is likely to sign with Middlesbrough before the game. Jefferson Montero could return to the Swansea midfield while their influential central midfielder Leroy Fer will have a late fitness test. Millwall’s impressive home record catapulted them to a promotion push last season. The Den is an intimidating stadium and will be a new experience for many of the Swansea squad.
This article is written by Robert Giles. Rob is a thirty year old, long-suffering Leeds United fan from Dublin.