This could be a tight one folks.
This is a natural feeling when the rock in the Leeds United defense named Pontus Jansson is suspended. Garry Monk will have to hope that the disruption in chemistry will not be too noticeable on the pitch with Luke Ayling and Lewie Coyle most likely stepping in.
Tonight, Leeds will look to pick up where they left off at Elland Road. Tight in defense... and winning.
United have managed to keep a clean sheet in their last four home matches in the Championship and have won all four of those games as well.
The question is: will a makeshift defense be able to replicate the form of former lineups?
Let’s take a look at who needs to makes the difference against a dangerous Derby team, my three potential man of the match candidates:
1. Kyle Bartley
The man has done little wrong with his contributions in both defense and attack. He has us singing.
Bartley will have to maintain his form in a game where the Derby offense can pounce on a mistake made by his partners in defense. One area where Bartley will have to dominate is in the air where Derby are particularly effective.
Monk will hope that Bartley can continue being the leader on the pitch and make sure everyone is organized and maintains their discipline.
Another late winner?
Hopefully, it won't be necessary.
On the other side:
Thomas Ince is the danger man for Derby.
Ince has managed to score 8 league goals so he is certainly someone Monk will highlight in the team talk. Playing from the right wing, Ince has the ability to gather pace and make effective runs into the danger areas. The task will fall on the shoulders of Bartley and Co. to make sure Ince is kept at bay.
2. Pablo Hernandez
Hernandez has been a real difference maker for Monk and has been rewarded with a permanent contract, certainly something Leeds fans will be very happy about.
With accurate passing, ability to effectively link-up, and good discipline, Hernandez is able to create quality chances for his teammates higher up the field. Hernandez is also a true utility player, as he has played in every position in the midfield for Leeds, so if the situation arises Monk can be confident he will play well in a formation switch.
On the other side:
Bradely Johnson will be a handful to deal with in the midfield for Hernandez and Co.
Johnson has been able to extremely effective with his ability to cut out dangerous passes and make sure that those interceptions turn into quick counter attacks. Johnson is also particularly strong in the air, so it is unlikely Leeds will win many 50/50 balls against him. Leeds will really have to keep track of Johnson to make sure he is not the difference maker in what will surely be an entertaining midfield battle.
3. Chris Wood
Goals, goals, and more goals.
That is what we have come to expect from Wood, and who can blame us, with the Kiwi scoring a remarkable 13 goals in the Championship. With Souleymane Doukara failing to be a consistent goal threat, Monk knows he will depend on Wood to put the ball in the back of the net.
The main question is: can he get the right service?
Wood is known for goals, but those goals really do not come from one on one take ons. He will be depending on quality passing and some help from the wingers to find pockets of space to keep his scoring run going. The return of Hernandez to the lineup on a regular basis should help.
Keep us talking Chris.
On the other side:
Alex Pearce will be tasked with keeping Wood quiet.
Pearce will be a tough challenge for Wood who is used to causing issues in the air for defenses. Pearce is more than capable of nullifying that aerial threat and making sure that Wood has to work extra hard for that little bit of space he needs to score. Expect Pearce to be a concentrated and consistent defender throughout the match tomorrow.
Monk knows that these are critical matches against other teams vying for the playoff positions, and momentum is everything. December 9th was the last time Leeds tasted defeat against a sizzling Brighton. Elland Road will be buzzing and they will look to make an impact from the stands to make life a little bit harder for the visiting Derby.
Will Leeds get off the mark first? Can Derby really pull off an upset win at a noisy Elland Road? Is the missing Jansson too much to deal with for Monk in defense?
Let us know in the comments below and on Twitter. Hopefully, another routine win is in the cards for Leeds and the exciting 2017 continues. MOT.