It’s first versus second in the EFL Championship this Friday evening at Elland Road, as Leeds United, currently top of the league, welcome Middlesbrough to West Yorkshire. Neither side has lost a league game yet in 2018/19, with both sides having won four and drawn one of their Championship matches so far this season.
Leeds coach Marcelo Bielsa has identified this match as a crucial one for his team, as they look to put down a marker for the season. Bielsa sees Boro as one of Leeds’ rivals in the race to win promotion to the Premier League and knows that winning this game would send a real message to the rest of the league.
Tony Pulis, the Boro boss, expects to make some signings before kick off on Friday evening. His squad also looks likely to suffer some losses, though. Danish striker Martin Braithwaite is likely to sign for a Spanish club before the weekend. Pulis, though, was in bullish mood when he spoke to the press about the player, and asserted that he doesn’t really want players in his squad who are not fully committed to the club. Pulis has certainly got his side defensively organised this season, with Boro having not conceded a goal in the league since drawing 2-2 with Millwall on the opening day of the season.
Leeds did suffer defeat in midweek, when a heavily changed team lost 2-0 to Preston North End in the Carabao Cup at Elland Road. Boro, in contrast, continued their fine league form in the competition, securing a place in the next round thanks to a 2-0 victory over League One club Rochdale at the Riverside.
Leeds United vs Middlesbrough Prediction: Leeds United 0-1 Middlesbrough
Given Boro’s defensive record so far in 2018/19, it is a brave tipster who would bet on Leeds scoring in this game. While the Whites have home advantage, teams like Sheffield United, Birmingham City and Bristol City have failed to score against the Boro this season, a real testament to Tony Pulis and his ability to organise his team.
Whether the likely departure of Braithwaite will affect Boro in attack remains to be seen, though. Braithwaite has grabbed three league goals already this season, and, if he does depart, his exit will undoubtedly blunt Boro’s attacking capabilities. But Britt Assombalonga has also chipped in with goals so far this season, and he might be the man who grabs the crucial goal in this game.
Our prediction is that Boro will win a tight and tense game with a single goal. Their defence may have to withstand a battering from the Leeds attack, but it has shown this season that it is a tough nut to crack. Boro should hold on to claim a narrow win.
Our recommended tip: Assombalonga scores & Boro win
Our featured tip for this game comes from Betfred, who are offering odds of 5/1 on Britt Assombalonga to score at any time, with Boro to win. This tip ties in nicely with our prediction of a 1-0 victory for Boro. The game is likely to be close, especially given the Teessiders’ defensive record, and one goal is likely to be enough to win the game. With Martin Braithwaite likely to depart the club before kick-off, the burden of leading the Boro attack will fall on the shoulders of Assombalonga. He has shown in the past, though, that he has the ability score goals, and he often takes penalties too. The Congolese player has netted twice already in the league this season, and has played in all five of Boro’s league matches in 2018/19. Backing him to score and Boro to win looks like being a good bet, especially at odds of 5/1.
These two sides played each other on two occasions last season, with both of those encounters being in the Championship. Each side won their home game. The first clash was in November at Elland Road, and ended up finishing 2-1 to Leeds. Garry Monk was the Boro boss at the time, and the game marked his first return to Elland Road since exiting his post as boss of the Whites. Pablo Hernandez and Ergjan Alioski were the men on target for the home side. Britt Assombalonga was on target for the Teessiders, striking home a penalty with 13 minutes of normal time remaining to give Boro some slight consolation.
The second game was played at the Riverside in March 2018. This time Boro emerged as convincing victors from the occasion. The Boro won the game 3-0 with Patrick Bamford – who is now at Leeds – grabbing a hat-trick, even though they only had 47% of the possession in the match.
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Players to watch: Kemar Roofe & Britt Assombalonga
Kemar Roofe is the Whites’ top scorer so far this season, with the 25-yearold having enjoyed a cracking start to the season. The young Englishman has played in all five of Leeds’ Championship matches in 2018/19, and has netted four goals. The arrival of Marcelo Bielsa seems to have given Roofe a boost, as he only managed to score 14 times in 78 games for Leeds prior to the appointment of the Argentine as coach. Whether his scoring run will continue will remain to be seen, but at the moment Roofe looks like one of previous manager Garry Monk’s better signings for Leeds.
Britt Assombalonga is set to be the lynchpin of Boro’s attack on Friday, with it looking increasingly likely that Martin Braithwaite will leave the club. The Congolese was Boro’s record signing when he joined from Nottingham Forest in July 2017, but he struggled to hold down a place in the second half of last season, with Rudy Gestede and Patrick Bamford favoured as the Boro strikeforce at that time. He has had to step up this season, and has netted two goals from five league appearances. Pulis has praised his hard work in public this week, though he still wants the player to improve his fitness.