Cardiff v Leeds: Tough tussle awaits Bielsa's boys
Table-topping Leeds look to preserve their position at the Championship summit when visiting Cardiff on Sunday. Mark O'Haire previews the encounter.
Cardiff v Leeds Sunday June 21, 12:00 Sky Sports
Cardiff challenging for the top-six
Cardiff started 2019/20 with aspirations of an immediate return to the Premier League. Neil Warnock declared, "this is probably the best Championship team I've ever managed" after a flurry of eye-catching arrivals in June and the Welsh club were keen to flex their muscles having put on a competitive top-flight effort that ultimately ended in relegation.
With the club consumed by the Emiliano Sala tragedy, plus the physical and emotional strain that Warnock shouldered, on-field results suffered and the two parties agreed to mutually part ways in November. With the Bluebirds squad requiring evolution rather than revolution, Neil Harris was appointed with the side sitting seven points outside the top-six.
Cardiff have returned W8-D9-L4 under Harris' tutorship and the former Millwall boss believes his side have become promotion challengers capable of competing with the best in the Championship. The hosts now sit only two points adrift of the play-off places and have key duo Lee Tomlin and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing fit and available again for selection.
Leeds in pole position
No team has dominated the Championship quite like Leeds under Marcelo Bielsa. The Whites finished top of the tree across all the major performance data metrics during the Argentine's debut campaign in English football, only for a spectacular and gut-wrenching collapse in the final fortnight denying the Elland Road outfit with the finishing line in sight.
The current campaign has followed a familiar pattern; Leeds have picked up where they left off, leading the league, monopolising possession, carving out gluts of goalscoring chances and limiting the damage defensively. At times Bielsa's boys still lack a killer instinct in the final-third, although the intensity and stranglehold on games remain unquestionable.
Leeds aren't expected to make major changes ahead of the restart. Key midfielder Kalvin Phillips is fit enough to return and should take up the holding role in Bielsa's 4-1-4-1 system with Gaetano Berardi expected to drop down to the bench. Doubts surround the fitness of January signing Jean-Kevin Augustin, while goalkeeper Kiko Casilla remains suspended.
Whites odds-on favourites in Wales
Cardiff have enjoyed three wins from four unbeaten league fixtures against Leeds (W3-D1-L0) since September 2016. The stalemate arrived earlier in the season when the Bluebirds managed to burgle a share of the spoils at Elland Road in a thrilling 3-3 draw despite trailing by three goals with only half-an-hour left to play.
Cardiff5.20 have picked up six draws in their last eight league games on home soil (W1-D6-D1) with the hosts also boasting a league-high 15 draws across the full campaign. The Bluebirds have been beaten only twice in the Welsh capital this term (W8-D8-L2) and suffered four defeats in 21 league fixtures under Neil Harris' watch (W8-D9-L4).
Leeds1.76 were the Championship form team (W5-D1-L0) heading into the enforced break, recording five successive shutouts. The Whites have averaged 1.79 points on their travels, although that figure drops dramatically to 0.75 points per-game when visiting clubs in 13th and above (W1-D3-L4), with that sole success arriving way back on the opening day.
Cardiff can be competitive
Cardiff and Leeds have enjoyed a few thrilling affairs in recent seasons. The past three head-to-heads have broken the Over 3.5 Goals barrier with both sides getting on the scoresheet in each encounter. Over 2.5 Goals is rated as a 1.80 shot on Sunday although it could be worth opposing a goal-filled contest based on the duos 2019/20 performances.
Cardiff have delivered 6/10 Under 2.5 Goals winners here under Neil Harris, with Leeds following suit in 12/19 (63%) road trips. Just three of those 19 away days featured four or more goals and considering the early start time, plus the long lay-off since previous competitive football, the 1.91 available on Under 2.5 Goals holds more appeal.
However, I'm going to play it slightly safer by dipping into Betfair Sportsbook's Same Game Multiand snapping up the 1.75on Cardiff +2 handicap and Under 3.5 Goals. Combining the two selections essentially allows us to back the following correct scores 0-0, 1-1, 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, as well as 0-1 and 1-2 triumphs in Leeds' favour. It's a wager that's won in 24/38 (63%) of the two teams' respective home/away contests this season.