Date: 2 March 2018
Time: 19.45 GMT, 2.45 PM EST
Venue: Riverside Stadium
Television: Sky Sports, Fox Sports 1 Africa, beIN Sports Arabia in most of the Middle East, beIN Sports 2 in both Australia & New Zealand, and Sports Max 2 in the Caribbean
Radio: BBC Radio Leeds (not available online)
Streaming: WatchESPN.com in the United States, DAZN in Canada, beIN Sports Connect New Zealand & beIN Sports Connect Arabia in the Middle East. Check Livesoccertv for more infomation if you don’t see your location listed.
All-time Record: Leeds United v Middlesbrough 38W 27D 31L
Reverse Fixture: Leeds United 2 - 1 Middlesbrough
Leeds United will (hopefully) travel to the Riverside Stadium tonight and take on Boro. Leeds, and fans, will brave the snow and ice, hoping to do the double over Middlesbrough, just as they did in the 2014-15 season. Leeds actually have a pretty good record over their neighbours since Boro dropped out of the Premier League in 2010, winning seven matches, drawing two and losing three matches.
@EFL Referees are an disgrace yet again. This is a clear free kick to Leeds but still silly from Ayling. How has it not been spotted Ayala throwing Ayling to the floor!? #LUFC #Boro pic.twitter.com/fpe6AupKXt— Sam (@samlockheart1) November 19, 2017
The reverse fixture was an important win for Leeds back in November, as Leeds not only got one over on Garry Monk, the former Leeds manager that walked out last May to take up the helm at Boro, but also got a needed win. Leeds lead 2-0 in the second half before Daniel Ayala was awarded a penalty in the second half after he hauled Luke Ayling to the floor with a tackle that would have been a foul in rugby, but the linesman only whistled Ayling’s reaction. The penalty was converted, but Leeds still hung on for the win.
Monk was sacked soon afterwards, and Tony Pulis was appointed manager. And despite spending a small fortune on players during the summer transfer window, Boro are only in 8th place, three points and places away from Leeds.
Leeds will need to win this match in order to still be in contention for the playoffs, as Leeds go into the match trailing Sheffield Untied by six points with 12 matches remaining in the season. Leeds are unbeaten in three matches, while Boro have won twice, lost twice and drawn once in their last five matches.
One of the interesting battles will be to see if either Britt Assombalonga or Pierre-Michel Lasogga score a goal or two. Assombalonga was one of the highest profile transfers during the transfer window last year, leaving Nottingham Forest for Boro, but on-loan Lasogga has arguably just as good, if not better. Lasogga will almost certainly get the start up front for Leeds.
Samu Saiz got his first start of Leeds after serving his six match ban and coming off the bench against Derby County in last weekend’s victory over Brentford. It is a coincidence that Leeds won as soon as Saiz started the match? Probably not. The Spaniard is back, and with him back Leeds retain a small chance of making the playoffs. To say he’s the key to the match would be an understatement. If Saiz is able to imprint himself in the match as he did the first time around, Leeds should be able to win. If not? Well, then Leeds will struggle.
On the wings, Stuart Dallas and Gjanni Alioski should get the start after both played well against Brentford. Alioski has great chemistry with Saiz on the pitch, and his play is one of the biggest differences that pop out when Saiz plays. Alioski does a great job tracking back and helping out defensively on either wing, and depending on who starts at left back, Alisoki could help provide cover or combine going forward.
In the middle of the pitch, Adam Forshaw will almost certainly get the start after celebrating the birth of his daughter last week. Eunan O’Kane played much better after struggling the past few weeks, but I think that Kalvin Phillips will get nod beside Forshaw.
On defence, the back four will likely remain unchanged. Laurens De Bock will have a hard time finding his way back into the side after his disastrous performance against Derby and while Vurnon Anita won’t win any awards on the left, at least he’ll have cover with Alioski tracking back to help him out instead of Pablo Hernandez or Kemar Roofe not tracking back to help cover him. Gaetano Berardi had a good game at right back, and he’ll likely keep his place in the team.
The central defence will again be Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper. If Cooper finds the back of the net again this week against Boro, you’ll be able to hear the cheers from the traveling support in Leeds, as he finally scored a goal last week after having a number of great opportunities throughout the season.
In goal, Felix Wiedwald will start, and barring injury, that’s the way it’s gonna be the rest of the season, pretty much no matter what. Unfortunately for Wiedwald, when he makes a mistake, like all keepers, it’s pretty obvious and usually results in a goal against. A lot of other bad things usually have had to happen before the goal, but keepers get too much abuse when they let in goals and too much credit when they get clean sheets.
This will be a real test for Heckingbottom, as the club has finally won a match and still has a chance to make the playoffs. Facing off against Boro in primetime on a Friday will only add to the pressure for both teams, but almost everyone has written Leeds off, so the team really has nothing to lose at this point. A victory here will help to put a terrible January and miserable February behind the club and maybe, just maybe propel Leeds closer to a playoff berth. 3-1 Leeds.
Leeds United: (4-2-3-1) Wiedwald; Berardi, Jansson, Cooper, Anita; Forshaw, Phillips; Dallas, Saiz, Alioski; Lasogga
Middlesbrough: (4-2-3-1) Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Leadbitter, Besic; Bamford, Downing, Traore; Assombalonga