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Match Preview: Sunderland v Leeds United

After back to back home matches, Leeds travels to the Stadium of Light to take on Sunderland

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Sunderland v Leeds United - FA Cup Third Round Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Match: Sunderland v Leeds United

Date: 19 August 2017

Time: 17.30 BST, 12.30 EDT

Venue: Stadium of Light, Sunderland

Television: Sky Sports Football

Radio: BBC Radio Leeds (not available online)

Streaming: ESPN3 or Watch ESPN

All-time Record: Leeds v Sunderland 39 W 18 D 34 L

Leeds United travel to the Stadium of Light for the first league meeting between the two clubs since December of 2006, and the first visit in any competition since a 1-0 loss to Sunderland in the FA Cup in January 2015.

A lot has changed since the 2006-07 season when Sunderland burned through the Championship on their way back into the Premier League and Leeds fell into administration and crashed out of the Championship. A decade later, and while Leeds have come back out of the depths of third tier football, Sunderland have finally crashed out of the Premier League after flirting with relegation for a few seasons.

To be honest, Sunderland looked like they were a total and complete mess during the summer. The team was for sale, and then it wasn’t. A manager was hired, and then he wasn’t. The team finally took a chance on former Leeds manager Simon Grayson, and he’s been absolutely fantastic for the Black Cats.

Sunderland is also undefeated in the League so far this season. They have been on a tear after drawing Derby County at home on the opening day of the Championship, making two difficult away trips. The team first traveled to Norwich City, grabbing all three points in a 3-1 victory and then headed to Hillsborough this past week and got a point against Sheffield Wednesday in a 1-1 draw. They were also successful in the opening round of the League Cup, beating Bury 1-0 at home.

Right now, Sunderland are a team in a sort of transition, as some of the team that finished last in the Premier League are still around, while some of their star players from the last few seasons have left for other opportunities. Jordan Pickford picked Everton in a record setting transfer over the summer, and Jermain Defoe left on a free for AFC Bournemouth.

However, as our friends at Roker Report will tell you, there are still plenty of quality still kicking around at the Stadium of Light. Aiden McGeady and Lewis Grabban both scored in the road win against Norwich City, and George Honeyman scored an early goal against Sheffield Wednesday a few days ago after already finding the back of the net against Bury. West Ham United fans are still seeing Wahbi Khazri’s goal at the Stadium of Light near the end of last season in their nightmares, and James Vaughn is still a threat to score.

While Darren Gibson grabbed some headlines before the start of the season for all the wrong reasons, this team seems to have gotten its head on straight so far this season. Beating them on the road in front of what is sure to be a big crowd at the Stadium of Light will be a tall task.

Leeds will be looking to build upon the back-to-back scoreless draws at home with a good result on the road. The match against Fulham was a good example of the team fighting through some early adversity to take control of the match, only drawing because of some very unlucky bounces and touches during the match. As much as fans, myself included, are critical of the team not scoring, a questionable offside play, a breakaway that went begging, and a slight deflection in the dying minutes of the match were the only things that prevented Leeds from scoring against Fulham. In the other home scoreless match, Preston was organized and lucky to escape with a nil-nil draw after absorbing almost constant pressure from Leeds after they were reduced to 10 men.

The lack of scoring may be just a product of bad luck, as both matches featured plenty of good chances that were just out of reach for Leeds. The back-to-back clean sheets, however, are a good trend, even if a couple of posts and one very good save from Felix Wiedwald against Fulham are at least partially responsible for the success of the defence. Either way, Pontus Jansson and Conor Shaughnessy both played brilliantly against Fulham during the midweek, and with Luke Ayling sure to return as well as Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, the back four for Leeds will be looking to build upon the success that they have had all season, only giving up a single goal from open play so far this season.

Before the season, the central midfield was speculated to be a place where the most rotation might occur, but so far Thomas Christiansen has trusted Eunan O’Kane and Kalvin Phillips to start in all three league matches. What this will mean to for the future of Liam Bridcutt remains to be seen, but for now, O’Kane and Phillips both have been playing quite well in the middle of the park. Ronaldo Vieira, still the best named footballer in England, may look to get a start, but with the undefeated start, Christiansen may stick with the horse that has brought him this far. New signing Mateusz Klich may also be a bit frustrated, as he was one of the first signings during the summer transfer window, but he has also been forgotten as O’Kane and Phillips have dominated the first few matches.

The attacking midfielder and wings were also supposed to be another place where squad depth was going to make Christiansen’s life difficult. So far, the challenge has been to see if Pablo Hernandez and Samu Saiz are able to be on the pitch at the same time, as they have both been key members of the attack, along with Gianni Alioski. Saiz may have been brought in to either replace or spell Hernandez, but Pablo has shown no sign of letting his fellow Spaniard take his place in the squad.

Kemar Roofe had plenty of expectations surrounding him at the start of the season, but after a decent showing against Bolton, he’s not looked good. He came on against Fulham as a sub for Alioski in the 63rd minute, but it looks like he hasn’t done enough to justify a starting spot. Hadi Sacko likely needs to have a good performance against Newport County in the League Cup for him to be seen again in a Leeds shirt. Stuart Dallas is another player who had a good preseason and might feel like he has done enough to justify a starting spot, but look for Christiansen to see if he can grab lightning in a bottle by starting Saiz and Alioski on the wings with Hernandez behind Chris Wood up front.

Chris Wood scored a goal against Bolton, but given the reaction surrounding him and the rumors about a possible transfer, you think he would have been unable to tie his boots so far this season. Yes, it was disappointing to see him miss a clear chance against Fulham, but he was robbed of another goal by a jumpy linesman. If he had scored against Fulham, the boo birds wouldn’t be singing about him right now. Also, Christiansen must get really tired of repeating over and over that Wood isn’t for sale, no matter the price. I still think that he is worth a lot more to Leeds than just what he can get for a transfer fee, but it’s not as if Leeds is paying me for my opinions.

If Wood scores against Sunderland, a lot of the questions will die down, but expect the “will he stay or will he go” rumors to remain around until the transfer window shuts. Leeds doesn’t need the money right now, so it’s hard to see them selling Wood on for a profit unless Wood pulls a Dimitri Payet or Diego Costa and refuse to play for the club.

Predicted Score:

2-1 Leeds. I think that Leeds will do just enough to convert a couple of the chances that have gone wasted these past two games. TC isn’t George Graham, so the nil-nil draws are bound to end soon, right? Look for Alioski to finally be rewarded with his first goal for the club and Wood to finally smash another one home.

Predicted Lineups:

Leeds United: (4-2-3-1) Felix Wiedwald; Luke Ayling, Conor Shaughnessy, Pontus Jansson, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson; Eunan O’Kane, Kalvin Phillips; Samu Saiz, Pablo Hernandez, Gianni Alioski; Chris Wood

Sunderland: (4-4-2): Jason Steele; Billy Jones, Lamine Kone, Tyias Browning, Brendan Galloway; Didier Ndong, Lee Cattermole (c), George Honeyman, Aiden McGeady; James Vaughan, Lewis Grabban.