Match: Sheffield United v Leeds United
Date: 10 February 2018
Time: 12.30 GMT, 7.30 AM EST
Venue: Bramall Lane
Television: Sky Sports Football, beIN Sports 2 Australia & New Zealand
Radio: BBC Radio Leeds (not available online)
Streaming: WatchESPN.com in the United States & beIN Sports Connect New Zealand, DAZN Canada. Check Livesoccertv for listings where you live
All-time Record: Leeds United v Sheffield United 29W 23D 27L
Reverse Fixture: Leeds United 1 - 2 Sheffield United
Leeds United will take on Sheffield United on Saturday in the early fixture on Saturday, with a new coach and a new attitude and, hopefully, a new result after a rather dismal January that saw the club go from being a solid playoff team to 10th place and outside of the playoffs. Sheffield United is also looking for a rebound of their form, as they currently sit in 8th place. Sheffield United visited Elland Road earlier in the season, and after their well deserved 2-1 victory, the Blades were top of the league. Since then, however, things haven’t gone exactly the right way for United, but they still sit above Leeds in the table.
PH: Tough start in terms of fixtures and players missing but perfect to start with a Yorkshire derby. My goal is to win games. Don't want to put undue pressure on people by setting specific targets. #lufc— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) February 8, 2018
If either team wants to mount a serious attempt at the playoffs, this match will be a key stepping-stone towards that goal. Both clubs will draw closer, but not into, the playoffs with a victory on Saturday. So, a Yorkshire derby, with a new boss at the helm of the visitors and everything to play for. What could be better?
Paul Heckingbottom has got his work cut out for him at Leeds. The club has taken two points since Boxing Day, bombed out of the FA Cup away at Newport County, and seems to be in disarray, with yet another red card last Saturday against Cardiff City meaning that an already thin defence will be with out the services of Gaetano Berardi against Sheffield United. Luke Ayling is already out for the entire season after going off injured against Nottingham Forest (thanks Liam Bridcutt!), and captain Liam Cooper is still suspended after getting a red card against Millwall. Conor Shaughnessy went down injured against Hull City, meaning that Matthew Pennington and Pontus Jansson are the only fit first team central defenders on the roster.
Pontus Jansson, despite going off against Cardiff, is reportedly fit to play against Sheffield United, meaning that the only challenge will be finding a central defender for the bench. Berardi had filled in at central defender a few times, but with him suspended, the only other senior player that has played at centre-back is Laurens De Bock, and that would still leave the club a fullback short of full duty.
While former head coach Thomas Christiansen showed an unnatural devotion to the 4-2-3-1 formation, almost never wavering from it, Heckingbottom isn’t necessarily tied down to that formation. He said that he was willing to play the players in whatever formation suited the strengths of the players, rather than trying to fit square pegs in round holes that so often seemed to be the case under Christiansen. Leeds have been overrun in midfield lately, and with a new boss at the helm, the case can be made for the team to go to a 4-3-3.
PH: Everyone has a clean slate. Jansson has trained today so he'll be fit for Sheffield United game. #lufc— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) February 8, 2018
Heckingbottom also said that there is a “clean slate” at Leeds right now in terms of selection, so while it got pretty predictable under Christiansen, a few changes might be in order this weekend. We might see Vurnon Anita back at fullback, Stuart Dallas back at winger, and perhaps see Kemar Roofe and Gjanni Alioski dropped for rather uninspiring performances lately.
Up top, Pierre-Michel Lasogga will still likely get the nod at striker. Roberts isn’t 100% fit, so it’s likely that he won’t start, but he might come off the bench. Along with Lasogga up top, the wingers will likely be Pablo Hernandez and Stuart Dallas. Alioski has played rather poorly lately, getting knocked off the ball and missing easy shots. He probably needs a break. Stuart Dallas has been used as a fill-in fullback by Christiansen, but look for him to take up his more typical role of winger under Heckingbottom.
In the midfield, the addition of Adam Forshaw, and the return of Eunan O’Kane and Kalvin Phillips from suspension, means that the team will be at almost full health in the middle of the pitch. Ronaldo Vieira, while not listed as being injured, has not been his usual self since coming back from injury suffered in the Burton Albion match, so perhaps he will take a seat. A midfield three of O’Kane, Forshaw, and Phillips would allow Phillips to charge forward without leaving a holes behind him.
In defence, there won’t be a lot of mystery of who starts. Unless Dallas is drafted to play fullback again, expect a backline of Vurnon Anita and right back, De Bock at left back, with Pennington and Jansson being the pair in central defence. If Dallas does take the pitch instead of Anita, expect Cibicki or Sacko to perhaps get a chance.
At keeper, Felix Wiedwald will almost certainly continue to start. He’s been fine, and honestly has been extremely consistent, despite the poor run of form the club has been on. It will be interesting to see if Heckingbottom’s tactics take advantage of Wiedwald’s ability with the ball at his feet and distribution. Back at the beginning of the season, Leeds were passing the ball around for fun and top of the league. The club hasn’t looked as good since then, and the results haven’t followed. Perhaps a return to free-flowing football is in order?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and turning the ship around at Leeds might take more than a week in charge. Starting off away in a Yorkshire Derby and facing a hostile crowd at Bramall Lane will put even more pressure on the players and the new head coach, but this is a club that might need a kick in the pants to get started. Leeds probably have more talent than Sheffield United, and would have gotten a result at Elland Road if the team had focused on retaining the one all draw instead of going for a win that resulted in the defensive lapse that resulted in the winning goal for United. I’ll go with my heart instead of my head and say that Leeds will win 2-1 against Sheffield United to start the Heckingbottom era off right.
Leeds United: (4-3-3) Wiedwald; Anita, Pennington, Jansson, De Bock; Forshaw, Phillips, O’Kane; Dallas, Lasogga, Hernandez
Sheffield United: (3-5-2) Blackmon; Stearman, O’Connell, Basham;Stevens, Fleck, Holmes, Evans, Baldock; Sharp, Clarke