CHAMPIONSHIP fan Matthew Kirby (@M_Kirby95) oversees Saturday afternoon's action from the second-tier as Leeds host Fulham, picking out his best bets.
Leeds vs Fulham | Saturday 27th June 2020, 15:00 | Sky Sports
The Championship returned last week and the teams at the top failed to make a splash. Fulham went down 2-0 in a London derby against Brentford, while Leeds failed to capitalise on West Brom’s draw, as the Yorkshire club lost 2-0 at Cardiff.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men have an opportunity to put things right back at Elland Road. But you’ve got to feel that playing here behind closed doors will have a slight impact on Leeds without their loyal and vocal support.
These behind closed doors games only have a small sample size in the second-tier, but nine of last weekend’s game saw Under 2.5 Goals. And, interestingly, the goals were fairly well split – 12 in the first halves and 14 after the break.
Focussing back on these two sides, who sit second and third, Leeds home games average 2.17 goals per game, while Fulham away games average 2.06. There’s plenty at stake, which means a tight game, which might come down to one mistake or one moment of quality.
Those two words might sound strange considering the Whites sit in second place and are in one of the pole positions for an automatic promotion spot. But defeat here would see their advantage halve to three points.
What do I mean by Leeds’ struggles? Bielsa’s side is good to watch and can brush aside teams at will on their day. I saw that for myself when they beat Stoke 3-0 in August, while more recently they swept aside a sorry Hull side 4-0 in front of the Sky cameras.
Yet their record against the sides that currently make up the top six isn’t as strong as many would imagine – W2-D5-L2. Going even further into that, eight of nine have been Under 2.5 with all five draws finishing 1-1.
They beat the sides they should win against, but seem to lack that killer instinct against those around them. That’s partly down to a high volume of missed chances. Those two defeats came against Forest, and the reverse of this at Craven Cottage, when they struggled to keep Aleksandar Mitrović quiet.
The Serb is leading the way in the goalscoring charts and will be a nuisance to this Leeds backline, which boasts the best defensive record in the league, so it’s an intriguing match-up in that respect.
Two possession teams
These two sides like to get the ball down and play. The hosts average 60% possession – the most in the Championship – while Fulham ranks second with 59%.
Although dominating most of the stats in the Welsh capital, Leeds failed to win the key one. Mistakes proved costly with a rare Kalvin Phillips error costing them the opener.
But they may be boosted by the return of Pablo Hernandez. The metronomic midfielder is the magician for Leeds. He can unlock most defences in this league and without him; they do sometimes lack the necessary spark.
With how these two set-up, there will be a battle for the ball. When in possession, both sides will look to create pockets of space for their key creative forces to provide for Patrick Bamford and Mitrović respectively.
And given this, the defensive shape will be important. Leeds are well drilled and do reduce their opponents to a limited number of chances – just 9.1 shots per game. That could mean Fulham are forced to try their hand from range.
Tom Cairney makes late runs from deep and is one man who can pull the trigger from the edge of the area, but one battle that will be intriguing is Anthony Knockaert up against either Ezgjan Alioski or Stuart Dallas.
If the winger wins that duel that’ll mean Fulham should be able to get the required service to Mitrović or see the Frenchman testing Illan Meslier.
It’ll be worth waiting to see how Fulham line-up, but there’s some EVS on Sky Bet for Knockaert to have 2+ shots. That’s something he’s achieved in 17 league games this term.
The betting angles
After just one match back, it’s hard to weigh up too much in the Championship. In his press conference, Scott Parker called his Fulham team news “a bit of a mixed bag”, which won’t fill many with confidence.
Before lockdown, the Cottagers were unbeaten in seven on the road (W2-D5-L0) with three consecutive away games ending 1-1. On their travels, five games have ended in that scoreline overall and that’s probably not good enough for them here, although I’m sure Leeds would take it to maintain the gap.
Going back to Leeds, they’ve drawn just eight of their 38 league games. But, five of those have been against sides in the top six, so given that trend, the draw at 29/10 looks worth taking.
I’m not huge on head-to-head data, but five of the last seven between these two have ended all square. While the last three here at Elland Road have also ended level. That fits in with the close nature of the league positions and how this should shape up.
Jack Harrison is one man that probably doesn’t get some of the credit he deserves. His output in the final third has improved this season without getting the goals some of his performances deserve.
The evens on Harrison to have a shot on target does look good. In 21 games, he’s had at least two shots, while flicking through some data; he had a shot on target in six of 10.
The Man City loanee does drift infield off the left flank and he takes up some good position in front of goal. Although failing to hit the target at Cardiff from three attempts, all three came from 12 yards or closer.
It’s that lurking with intent that makes me feel he’s a good bet here. Given the fitness levels Bielsa demands of his squad, then I can see Harrison being a constant threat in this one against a Fulham side who’s wellbeing is somewhat questionable listening to Parker.
So, Harrison is the man to focus on in a home jersey, while I’ll be backing the draw in what should be a tense clash.