Leeds United begin 2017 with arguably the best New Year’s gift possible: a match up against a side who is already all but relegated. That makes today’s game against Rotherham United far different from anything we witnessed in 2016.
See, there is no football game being played at Elland Road today. No, instead a Leeds United side will take the field for 90 minutes of business.
With play-off positioning and dreams of promotion now catapulted into reality, today’s match is now an unabashed business trip for Garry Monk and his men. The quality (or lack thereof) of the opponent makes it so.
Rotherham have been a mess this season, taking 13 points from 24 matches and churning through three managers. Alan Stubbs was sacked in October and his replacement, Kenny Jackett, called it quits after their defeat to Leeds in November. The Millers are biding their time until League One comes calling, and Leeds must be at their ruthless best to quickly avoid a calamity to open 2017.
That’s not to say today is meaningless; not at all. It represents an opportunity for Leeds to return to the winners list in the wake of an unfortunate end to the Villa trip. A crowd of over 30,000 will head to Elland Road expecting victory, and Pontus Jansson wants to give them all an aggressive showing.
“When we believe in ourselves we’re a really good team,” Jansson told the YEP. “Now we just have to keep going. Rotherham’s our next game and that’s really important because we have to win.
“From the first minute we have to go out there and kill them – put full pressure on them and play the football we want to play. We know we are strong at Elland Road.”
Amen, Pontus. A quick start could open the floodgates, and it also happens to be our first key of the game.
No New Year’s hangover
If there is one aspect of United’s play has been problematic at times this season, it is the odd lackadaisical start we see every now and again. These have largely evaporated in recent months as Monk’s men have started to gel. Nonetheless, a repeat of the first half witnessed on Boxing Day against Preston North End should be possible against Rotherham.
Contain Tom Adeyemi
Former Leeds man Adeyemi is playing his best football since joining Rotherham on loan from Cardiff City. He was a first-half scorer against Burton last week and represents the Millers’ best chance of stealing points from Elland Road. Contain him, and Rob Green should enjoy a quiet day between the pipes.
Don’t ease up
Goal difference is that issue which lurks over the horizon, and it’s time to start thinking about it. Newcastle and Brighton are likely out of reach, and the seventh and eight placed Championship sides currently have a superior goal difference to that of United. It may not seem relevant now, but against a clearly inferior side, today represents a great opportunity to improve this tie breaker.
Leeds United: L-W-W-W-D
United remain one of the Championship’s form sides. Thursday’s draw at Villa Park may have ended in disappointment, but it closed off a wonderful December which saw victories over Preston, Brentford and Reading.
Rotherham United: W-L-L-W-L
By their lowly standards, Rotherham are in the midst of a purple patch. Two victories in December doubled their total from the season’s first four months. They remain rooted to the foot of the table but are showing signs of life for the first time this season.
In what was arguably the ugliest victory of the season, Leeds went into New York Stadium in November and saluted. However, the most important thing was the victory. Three more points were added to the kitty.
Leeds United vs. Rotherham United
EFL Championship fixture
Elland Road, Leeds
LUTV, BBC Radio Leeds
Monday, January 2, 2017
07:00am PT / 10:00am ET / 3:00pm BT
Leeds United predicted starting XI
Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi, Bridcutt, Phillips, Sacko, Doukara, Roofe, Wood
Rotherham predicted starting XI
Price, Fisher, Wood, Belaid, Mattock, Forde, Adeyemi, Frecklington, Newell, Brown, Ward
3-0 Leeds. A professional attitude will be enough for United to dominate and I expect to see it. The leadership of Monk and Jansson will focus their side on an easy kill, and Leeds will vault into third by night’s end.