Date: 7 April 2018
Time: 15.00 BST, 10.00 PM EDT
Venue: Elland Road
Television: beIN Sports 2 Australia & New Zealand, Sports Max 2 in most of the Caribbean. Not available on TV in the UK or Ireland.
Radio: BBC Radio Leeds (not available online)
All-time Record: Leeds United v Sunderland 40W 18D 34L
Reverse Fixture: Sunderland 0 - 2 Leeds United
Leeds welcome Sunderland to Elland Road tomorrow night, with Sunderland in desperate need of points to avoid a second straight relegation, while Paul Heckingbottom’s men are looking to close out the season with some performances worthy of the support that the Leeds fans bring to Elland Road.
The Sunderland match from earlier in the season is mostly remembered by the Leeds faithful as the match that Chris Wood traveled with the team, but did not take the pitch as the deal that took him to Burnley had all but been agreed between the two clubs. Caleb Ekuban was the surprise starter for the match, and although he worked hard, he failed to score a goal. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. He also went off injured with a broken foot.
The match also featured a pair of goals from Stuart Dallas and Samu Saiz, and as good as the attackers played during the match, Felix Wiedwald and the Leeds defence did a wonderful job keeping their league clean-sheet streak alive. The season was still alive and kicking back then, and Leeds supporters had dreams of this team taking the league by storm.
Now that spring is upon us, Leeds have fallen away from the heights of late summer and early autumn, and once again are staring mid-table mediocrity in the face. Leeds fans will certainly be looking for the club to finish off the season on a bright note, but the players don’t seem nearly as motivated. Between the injuries and the fatigue of a long season, combined with the huge dip in form, this has all the makings of a team going through the motions.
Kemar Roofe seems to be fit again, but don’t count on him getting a starting spot. Caleb Ekuban seems to be the preferred striker at the moment, although Heckingbottom could throw “caution” to the wind and start both Ekuban and Pierre-Michel Lasogga in a 4-4-2 formation. However, this team isn’t really built to play a 4-4-2, so it remains to be seen what kind of formation get trotted out there tomorrow.
Samu Saiz will certainly get the start at the attacking midfielder spot with Gjanni Alioski and Pablo Hernandez getting the the starts on the wing. Alisoki and Saiz were brilliant against Sunderland when the two teams played at the Stadium of Light back in August, although that match seems like a lifetime ago right now. If those versions of the two players show up, then Leeds won’t have any trouble with Sunderland, but it remains to be seen if Alioski and Saiz can put together a performance like that again.
In central midfield, with both Eunan O’Kane and Adam Forshaw out, Kalvin Phillips and Ronaldo Vieira will get the start in the middle of the pitch. The future of the midfield is now, as it’s been assumed that pair of them would eventually be the midfield engine at the club. They have the ability to run the midfield, but how will the two of them mesh together?
Heckingbottom says development squad CB Paudie O'Connor could be involved this weekend. Has trained with Leeds all week and made the trip to Fulham.— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) April 5, 2018
On defence, there are a couple ways this lineup will go, with Matthew Pennington and Liam Cooper both set to miss the match. Cooper is out the rest of the season and Pennington left the Fulham match with a calf strain that will rule him out for the next few matches. Does this mean that Paudie O’Connor will get the start at central defence? If he does start alongside Jansson, expect Stuart Dallas and Gaetano Berardi to line-up at the fullback spots. If Berardi plays in central defence, look for Tom Pearce to join Dallas at fullback.
In goal, no change is likely. Bailey Peacock-Farrell will almost certainly be getting the nod between the sticks.
Leeds are settling into their usual mid-table finish right now, so a loss wouldn’t be out of the question. However, the Sunderland side that Leeds will be facing has looked demoralized and might actually be in worse form than Leeds. I was pessimistic about how the club would play against Bolton Wanderers last weekend, but was pleasantly surprised that Leeds actually pulled off a win. No Easter miracles for Sunderland either then, as Leeds will run out to a 2-1 win that should be more comfortable than it will be.
Leeds United: (4-2-3-1) Peacock-Farrell; Dallas, Berardi, Jansson, Pearce; Vieira, Phillips; Alioski, Saiz, Hernandez; Ekuban
Sunderland: (4-2-3-1) Camp; Love, O’Shea, Wilson, Oviedo; Cattermole, McNair; McGeady, Honeyman, Gooch; Fletcher