Leeds v Crystal Palace: Zaha absence gives Bielsa's men the edge

Leeds lost 4-1 to Crystal Palace in this season's reverse fixture but Mike Norman believes the Yorkshire outfit will get their revenge over a Zaha-less Eagles team on Monday night...

Leeds v Crystal Palace
Monday 8 February, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports

Inconsistent but safely sitting in mid-table

If you had to describe the 2020/21 version of Leeds United in as few words as possible, how many would you use? Five, 'a breath of fresh air', four, 'a joy to watch', three maybe, 'never gives up', or perhaps just two, 'highly entertaining'?

I suppose an argument can be made for all of the above, though it's a bit of a stretch to label a team a joy to watch and never gives up when they're conceding six and being battered by Manchester United, or conceding four at home in heavy defeats to Crystal Palace and Leicester.

And it's that reference to Leicester that brings me to my own one word description of this Leeds United team - inconsistent.

Marcelo Bielsa's men lost 4-1 to the Foxes in November, yet just last week they got their revenge by beating them 3-1 at the King Power Stadium. From Leeds' last 12 league games they've won six and lost six, they've defeated Everton and lost to Everton, they've won away to title-chasing Leicester and lost at home to a then struggling Brighton.

Even in this most unpredictable of seasons it's difficult to think of a Premier League team more inconsistent than Leeds.

Bielsa's men went into the weekend fixtures comfortably in mid-table, and they'll be itching to get back to winning ways following Wednesday's home defeat to Everton while also wanting revenge for the 4-1 defeat they suffered at the hands of Palace in November.

The Leeds boss has no fresh injury concerns and should name his strongest starting XI.

No thrills with Palace but Zaha loss a huge blow

If Leeds are very much an unpredictable outfit then the opposite can be said of Crystal Palace. They rarely upset the odds, they win or at least avoid defeat when they're fancied to do well, and they usually lose when they're expected to lose.

Roy Hodgson's men have won eight league games this season and none bar the victory at Old Trafford - and even that was when Man United were in dreadful home form - can be classed as a shock result. In fact seven of the Eagles' eight wins were against teams currently in the bottom half of the table.

The Eagles will go into Monday night's clash at Elland Road in confident mood having recorded back-to-back league wins for the first time since September. They sit level on points with Leeds in mid-table but Hodgson has a mounting injury list to keep him worried up until match day.

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Joel Ward and James McArthur are set for late fitness tests while Jeffrey Schlupp remains sidelined with a thigh strain, but it's the confirmed absence of Palace's talisman Wilfried Zaha that is the big blow to Hodgson.

The Ivorian also has a thigh strain and without him, the Eagles' results make for utterly grim reading.

From the last 18 Premier League games in which Zaha has been absent, Crystal Palace have lost an astonishing 16 of those games. Put another way, in effectively half a season of results without their top goalscorer and playmaker Hodgson's men have performed like a tailed off relegation outfit.

Home win the call given team news

I'm a little surprised that Leeds' price to win this match didn't move significantly more than it did once Hodgson confirmed on Friday afternoon that Zaha would definitely miss the game.

Bielsa's men were available to back at around 1.96 when the market opened and although they've been matched at a low of 1.82, their current price of 1.88 seems a fair one to me.

I'll hold my hands up, the above is not something I was expecting to type given what I've said about Leeds' inconsistencies and unpredictability, but I'm of the opinion that Zaha's absence swings the likely outcome in the home side's favour.

Palace can be backed at 4.4 to win the match (the draw is 4.0), but in order to do so I believe they'll need Leeds to play way below their best and their new emerging star, Eberechi Eze, to have a great night.

Why we should never favour a low-scoring Leeds game

We've seen in the last seven days exactly what can happen if Leeds' opponents score first. Bielsa deploys his 'attack at every opportunity' tactic and the match descends into an end-to-end wide open game of football. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn't.

But don't be fooled - not that I think many of us are - into thinking that if Leeds score first then they can comfortably manage a game and see it out 1-0. They can't.

We should always still expect goals in a game featuring Leeds.

In one of the craziest games I've seen for a long time Leeds beat Everton 1-0 earlier this season, in a game that had 38 shots at goal! In a 0-0 draw with Arsenal, Bielsa's men themselves had a staggering 25 efforts at goal. They won 1-0 at Sheffield United in September in another game that had 30+ shots at goal.

This season, games featuring Leeds average a league high 28.95 shots per game, with another league high of 11.05 of those shots being on target. In their games that have finished low scoring it's been more down to a combination of misfortune, wasted opportunities and brilliant goalkeeping than any defensive masterclass.

You won't be surprised to learn then that Over 2.5 Goals can be backed at 1.7 for the Monday night clash with Palace, while Under 2.5 Goals can be backed at 2.3.

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At least three goals scored in a Leeds win

You also won't be surprised to learn that, given everything I've already said, I'm backing a Leeds victory with at least three goals scored in the game.

This current Leeds side will always have the potential to leave you with egg on your face, but if they perform how we know they can, and they put their chances away, then I fully expect them to win this game comfortably.

Leeds to Win with Over 2.5 Goals in the game is available to back at 6/4 on the Betfair Sportsbook.

Dallas has to be backed to get on the scoresheet

In the last week, Stuart Dallas has been played as an attacking midfielder in games against Leicester and Everton, and I see no reason why he won't play there again on Monday night.

Dallas has started every one of Leeds' 21 Premier League games this season so looks certain to start again, and with Bielsa having his usual defensive back four available, holding midfielder Kalvin Phillips fit, and striker Rodrigo out injured, then it looks very likely that the 29-year-old will play in attack once more.

He looks a massive price at 11/2 to score at anytime given the position that he'll play and that he scored against Leicester last week.

Of the others, in-form Raphina - 5/2 to score anytime - has scored two and assisted two in his last three games, while Patrick Bamford has assisted three goals and scored one himself just in the last week, so both will be popular in Same Game Multi bets.

Bamford to score in a Leeds win with over 2.5 goals being scored can be backed at a tad north of 5/2 (3.52), while Raphina instead of Bamford in the same bet gives us odds of 5.72.

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