Promotion contenders Leeds and Aston Villa round-off the weekend’s Championship action and EFL Pundit Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) picks his best bet
Leeds v Aston Villa | Sunday 28th April 2019, 12:00 | Sky Sports
Aston Villa enter the penultimate weekend of Championship action 2/1 for promotion – a mere smidge bigger than the 15/8 available on Leeds United.
It would have been hard to envisage that scenario in mid-February, when Villa had dropped seven points off the Play-Off pace with a 2-0 home defeat to West Brom – and Leeds were second-favourites to go up.
Both clubs would consider themselves to be among the top 10 biggest in English football in terms of fanbase, history and prestige – but without a trophy since the ‘90s, a Premier League return would be the first step to bringing the good times back.
Leeds’ hammer blow
Leeds United’s mood heading into this game hinges on whether their automatic promotion rivals, Sheffield United, got the result many expected against Ipswich – but vibes following the 2-0 loss at Brentford on Easter Monday were of deflation.
Many fans have declared the season all over – not because it is necessarily, but because the process of finding another layer of hope and optimism is emotionally draining.
Marcelo Bielsa received an element of criticism for leaving influential holding midfielder Kalvin Phillips out of his starting XI, when Adam Forshaw came in.
The solidity that Phillips brings has often been key in a system that often incorporates two attacking midfielders in Mateusz Klich and Tyler Roberts, plus Spanish magician Pablo Hernandez on the right.
Ezgjan Alioski had been performing admirably at left-back but picked up a season-ending injury at Griffin Park; first-choice option Barry Douglas is out for the season with a knee injury, so Stuart Dallas is likely to deputize.
Final third difficulties
In Leeds’ 1-0 loss at Birmingham earlier this month, the performance was below-par – yet on another day Patrick Bamford could have taken all three of his chances and the post-match narrative might have been about how this predatory poacher could be the difference-maker.
In the 2-1 home defeat to 10-man Wigan, they had 77% possession and 36 shots to 8 with 10 testing the goalkeeper, while their visitors struck from both of their on target efforts.
Even in the worst display of the three April defeats, the 2-0 loss at Brentford, the match could have transpired differently had a penalty been awarded after the quarter-hour.
It would be wrong, therefore, to say that Leeds are bottling promotion – they are in a race with two other very good teams and have not quite had the rub of the green recently against three sturdy opponents.
However, it is hard to avoid the feeling that the verve and fluency we have so often admired about this Leeds side has not quite been there in recent games.
Aston Villa’s win over Millwall
Aston Villa mathematically confirmed their Play-Off place on Easter Monday, thanks to a 1-0 victory over Millwall.
The one-goal scoreline did not quite reflect the nature of the contest, in which the Villans controlled much of the play, aside from the subdued start that preceded Jonathan Kodjia’s opener.
They took seven shots on target – in contrast with a solitary on target effort for their opponents from range – and were denied a greater margin of victory only by a goalkeeping masterclass.
Anwar El Ghazi continued his impressive individual form; not too many wide men below the Premier League possess pace, dribbling ability and accuracy in end product, so the Dutchman’s displays are a real positive leading towards May.
At centre-back, meanwhile, Kortney Hause is not back in training until next week, but Mile Jedinak has deputized surprisingly well.
Steve Bruce’s setup was not conducive to ball retention, so when Jedinak played there under him, he frequently underwent stern examinations and rarely convinced.
Dean Smith’s system, meanwhile, encourages more recycling of possession in midfield and that has meant Jedinak has not had to do that much defending – Smith could probably put Conor Hourihane in the same position for some games without fatal consequences.
Is Grealish Villa’s perfect 10?
Villa come into this off the back of 10 consecutive wins – the first time they have achieved that feat in their history.
It is unlikely to be merely chance that the run has coincided directly with the return from injury of Jack Grealish, who starred in the 4-0 triumph over Derby that started that streak.
Grealish is often questioned externally due to a relatively low goal return and assist output, but that is sometimes because he can be perceived as a number 10.
Most number 10s are constantly breaking beyond the main striker and getting into the box – Grealish has taken a combined 25 touches in the opposing penalty area in the nine games he has played since returning.
Although he can provide goals and assists, they are not his main intended selling points.
At least, not in comparison with control, final third ball retention, the ability to bring wide men into play, buying free-kicks and spinning away from opponents to create space for teammates.
Plus, his return completes the equilibrium of the midfield.
Previously, Villa had been starting Conor Hourihane and Glenn Whelan in the same XI, meaning it was only John McGinn getting into the half-spaces between defence and midfield.
Now, Hourihane and Whelan rotate for the third slot, while opposing teams have to stop both McGinn and Grealish finding those spaces – and often in blocking out one they are making room for the other.
The fact Grealish is not scoring all the goals is irrelevant – his influence on Villa’s general play has been transformative.
The Betting Angle
In terms of Expected Goals (xG), Leeds and Aston Villa are very evenly matched over the last four games – ranking second and first respectively.
Leeds are posting 1.55 For (xGF) per game in that period and 0.61 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 71.78%.
Villa, meanwhile, are posting a mega 2.55 For (xGF) and 0.91 Against (xGA), giving them a ratio of 73.71%.
Given that Dean Smith’s side are marginally the better performing team in that sequence, it seems surprising that the home win is available at odds-on quotes.
We would back Villa to avoid defeat at 11/10 with Bet365 – although they do not need to avoid defeat in this game as such, their style of play is more effective when executed with composure, rather than desperation.
Double Chance: Aston Villa or Draw (11/10 Bet365)