Leeds United defence set for big test against free scorers
After four cleans sheets in five wins on the trot Leeds United have been warned that they face a big goal threat in their next game.
This Sunday’s potential Christmas cracker at Aston Villa looks certain to offer the next big examination for the table topping Whites with their hosts finding a rich vein of attacking form under manager Dean Smith who took over at the club in October.
His previous club, Brentford, were one of the better attacking sides in the Sky Bet Championship and it seems he is getting his message across at Villa Park now with the Midlands club scoring 16 goals in their last five matches despite playing teams all in the top half of the division.
After beating Middlesbrough and Derby in recent weeks as well as drawing with West Brom, Stoke and Nottingham Forest Smith believes his team do not fear Leeds despite the impressive work being done under Marcelo Bielsa.
He has already faced Bielsa when his then Brentford team took a point home from Elland Road in a controversial game, but looks to have better players at his disposal with Villa who boast several internationals and Premiership players in their ranks.
He said: “We’re looking forward to Leeds United at home.
“It will be close to a full house. They’re a team up there doing well and one we believe we can beat.
“I know we’ve got players who will score goals, that’s one guarantee. It doesn’t matter who we play against – Stoke, Leeds, West Brom, we will score.”
Villa will face a United side that has suddenly developed a mean streak with just one goal conceded in their five matches since the last international break – and that despite the absence of captain Liam Cooper and four full-backs through injury.
Midfielder Kalvin Phillips once again filled in at the back in the 1-0 win at Bolton last Saturday with teenager Jamie Shackleton playing the full game at right-back.
Once more there was upheaval to the team before the game with news that Samuel Saiz was unhappy in England and wanting to go back home to Spain.
The 27-year-old playmaker was allowed to miss the match while sorting out a move to Getafe that has gone through this week. Leeds have agreed to let Saiz join the La Liga side on loan until the end of this season with a view to a permanent deal for a fee of about £6m next summer.
That would represent a tidy profit for United, but the talented player will be missed at Elland Road as he has often lit up games with his magical abilities in his 53 Championship appearances.
While he has also been frustrating at times, Saiz’s ability to run at defences and spot a pass few others could see marks him down as different and a real match winner. But Leeds did not want to have an unhappy player in their squad and it may be that they would not need to dip into the transfer market to replace him with the continuing development of teenage winger Jack Clarke and having Pablo Hernandez able to step into a number 10 role.
They also have a ready-made attacking midfielder in Izzy Brown, but this option looks like having to wait as he suffered a hamstring injury in the under 23s game against Barnsley and faces a further frustrating lay-off.