Leeds United v Man United looks like a Sunday treat, but we are not expecting loads of goals.
Kick off is at 15:00 SA time…
Aside from a 4-3 defeat to Liverpool on the opening day of the season (and with Leeds’ 0.27xG, that was a bit of a red herring) Leeds United matches against the wealthiest Premier League clubs aren’t actually filled with chances.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side only tend to take part in end-to-end games if their opponent gives in to the chaos, fighting fire with fire, but Man Utd don’t really have the capacity to make the sort of multiple choreographed runs that saw Liverpool race out of the blocks in midweek.
Instead, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer prefers a safe midblock and a mild pressing intensity, which will calm this game right down. That being said, both Leeds and Man Utd prefer to play on the counter-attack, and so there is always the possibility we will have short waves of high-quality attacking football.
Key battle zone
Man Utd’s central midfield has looked frail for some time. On the ball, Fred and Scott McTominay are both too safe, either playing simple sideways passes or not showing to receive the ball from the centre-backs – causing United’s football to go stale. Off the ball, they can be flat-footed, easy to bypass by aggressive midfielders playing sharp one-touch football.
That is exactly how Leeds play. Their frequent one-twos and gut-busting third-man runs could catch both Fred and McTominay floundering; if Youri Tielemans can essentially walk through the United midfield via a simple one-two with Kelechi Iheanacho in the FA Cup quarter-final, just imagine what Marcelo Bielsa’s team can do.
Keep an eye on… Pogba in an empty midfield
The flip side of this is that Leeds don’t tend to attack through the middle very often. Instead, Bielsa empties midfield and pours bodies down the two flanks, using his midfielders to overload the opposition full-backs and create quick one-twos to get in behind.
If Man Utd wish to make use of the counter-attacking space that will become available when one of these moves breaks down, then their chief creator will be Paul Pogba – enjoying a good spell of form off the left wing. The France international likes to dip into the middle, and may find that this simple move leaves him with acres of space alongside Bruno Fernandes.
One to watch… Edinson Cavani
But these tactical battles aren’t particularly likely to happen, with a low-scoring game probable; Leeds don’t chaotically press high, certainly not against a team of Man Utd’s calibre. Assuming there are long periods in which Solskjaer’s team have the ball and are seeking ways to break the lines, faced down by Leeds’ man-to-man press, then Edinson Cavani becomes their key player.
Cavani’s ability to drop off the front line is their biggest weapon at the moment, and arguably Man Utd’s only way of breaking the lines consistently with Fred and McTominay in the team. Watch how he drops into midfield to make things happen for those around him, sometimes directly (receiving the pass, laying it into the wide forwards) and sometimes indirectly – as he did by making space for Marcus Rashford to create Man Utd’s opener last weekend.