The Shape Up: In what will be a quick turnaround from this past weekend's contests, Leeds United and Reading will face off on Tuesday evening at the Madejski Stadium in a crucial lower-table clash. Even though Leeds currently sit in 20th place and Reading are in 13th, the two sides hold identical 2-1-2 records over their last five games. All that is different is how they got there.
Leeds began January with draws against Bolton and Birmingham, excelled in victories over Bournemouth and Huddersfield, and then dropped a glum 1-0 result to a visiting Brentford side over the weekend. Below are the highlights from the tough loss against the Bees.
As for Reading, they are riding high as of late. A loss in the middle of January to Fulham set a dreary mood, but three points from Cardiff City, a draw against Millwall, a win over Sheffield Wednesday, and a recent 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers have things looking up for Steve Clarke's men.
Adding to the plot, Leeds and Reading met once earlier in the year. Facing off at Elland Road, the two shared the spoils of a 0-0 draw, and outside of a few saves from Marco Silvestri and Adam Federici, there wasn't all that much to write home about. The highlights from that affair are below and the Whites and the Royals will be looking to play out a more lively encounter.
Who to Watch For: Neither Leeds nor Reading have a player or two who can take over this match, but there still are several key names who have the potential to influence the encounter in a major way. Starting with Leeds, the striking corps is a unique conundrum that will surely dictate the final scoreline in some capacity.
Billy Sharp is the only forward who has scored for Leeds lately, but Steve Morison, Edgar Cani, and Mirco Antenucci should get their own opportunities. A Leeds' front-runner has to round into form again soon, and there is every reason to believe one could against a Reading defence that has allowed 43 goals so far this season.
In terms of midfielders and defenders, the usual suspects of Lewis Cook, Luke Murphy, Rodolph Austin, Liam Cooper, and Sol Bamba will have the chance to earn Leeds a result on the road. Serving as potential foils, Giuseppe Bellusci will return to the fold from red card suspension and Alex Mowatt always has the potential to liven up a match.
With Reading, the major players and influencers is a little more straightforward. Along the back-line, Michael Hector, Alex Pearce, and Jordan Obita will make up the heart of the Royal's defense and shield Federici.
In the midfield, Oliver Norwood and Daniel Williams will provide their fair share of bite and creativity. In front of them, Simon Cox is undoubtedly the lead striker. The Irishman has tallied eight times so far this season, but will also be supported by the likes of Hal Robson-Kanu and Pavel Pogrebnyak.
Prediction: Considering the form of Leeds and Reading and those who can leave their stamp on the match, this game is shaping up to be a difficult one for both sides. Leeds' 4-2-3-1 and Reading's 4-3-3 also provides an interesting tactical battle, so it will be interesting to see how Neil Redfearn and Steve Clarke handle that side of the game.
All in all, I think Leeds is up for the challenge and confronts the Royals in a 1-1 draw.