Leeds v Sheffield United Saturday March 16, 12:30 Live on Sky Sports
Leeds impress in midweek
Pablo Hernandez scored two magnificent goals to steer Leeds to a confident 3-0 victory away to Reading on Tuesday night. With pre-match league leaders Norwich not in action until Wednesday, Marcelo Bielsa's boys leapfrogged the Canaries at the summit of the Championship with a performance of class and ruthlessness.
Mateusz Klich rolled Luke Ayling's cutback in from 10 yards to put the Whites in front inside 15 minutes, and Hernandez curled the second in off the post soon after. The Spanish midfielder settled the contest before the break when lashing home from the edge of the box for the third, allowing United to play out the second-half relatively untroubled.
Bielsa felt his team "could have scored more goals" with Patrick Bamford most at fault. However, the Argentine was impressed with his team's efforts as they sealed a fifth league success in six. The Leeds boss is now expected to keep the faith with the same starting XI for a sixth consecutive game as his side prepare to face Sheffield United on Saturday.
Sheffield United stay strong defensively
Sheffield United kept pace with their Championship promotion rivals despite being down to 10 men for more than half of their home 2-0 win over Brentford. The Blades went ahead via Oli Norwood's penalty midway through the first-half but striker Gary Madine was sent off with barely half an hour played at Bramall Lane after lunging into a challenge from behind.
Chris Wilder's troops came under plenty of pressure from the Bees thereafter. The visitors hit the post and fired in 29 shots overall, but they were unable to find a way through against a defence which has not conceded a league goal at home since Boxing Day. And David McGoldrick's header was on-hand to ensure the points for United six minutes from time.
Wilder was understandably enthused post-match, saying: "For us to produce a defensive performance like that is really heartening. We are showing signs that we have the characteristics to achieve something." Cardiff loanee Madine will be the team's only absentee for Saturday's showdown as he begins a three-match suspension.
Derby day could end in stlaemate
Leeds' 1-0 triumph in the reverse encounter back in December was only the Whites' second victory in nine league meetings against Sheffield United at this level since 2004 (W2-D2-L5). That run includes a sole success in four at Elland Road, a match that saw a player from each side of the divide sent off in what tends to be a fiery Yorkshire derby.
Only Sheffield United have picked up more points at home in the Championship than Leeds(W12-D3-L3) and Marcelo Bielsa's men have returned W7-D2-L2 when taking on top-seven rivals. The hosts have been chalked up as a 2.10 chance here - odds that suggest the Whites would be marginal favourites if the two teams locked horns at a neutral venue.
Sheffield United 3.70 arrive having collected 33 Championship points from their last 42 available (W10-D3-L1) since Boxing Day. The Blades have held Norwich and West Brom away in that sample, as well as avoiding defeat at bitter neighbours Sheffield Wednesday. The visitors have also kept their sheets clean in 10 of those 14 fixtures.
Expected Goals (xG) marks the two teams out as the strongest in the second-tier, whilst the pair are also found at the summit across a range of similarly impressive performance data metrics. The well-matched duo can be backed to play out a draw at 3.45 at Elland Road.
Tight tussle anticiapted
Leeds come into the weekend's clash on the back of three consecutive clean sheets, whilst scoring at least three goals in two of those tussles. It means the hosts have cleared the Over 2.5 Goals barrier in 11 of their last 17 Championship outings. Even so, only half of their home outings have featured three goals or more and a repeat is unappealing at 1.99.
Sheffield United's recent defensive resistance has ensured a series of lower-scoring games with eight of their past 11 falling below the 2.5 goal line. And with the two teams allowing a combined average of just 1.20 xG from open play, there's a fair chance this mouthwatering match may fail to produce the goalmouth action that neutrals crave.
Mark O’Haire says: back the draw @ 3.45 in Leeds v Sheffield United