CHAMPIONSHIP fan Matthew Kirby (@M_Kirby95) oversees Thursday night's action at Elland Road as Leeds host Stoke, picking out his best bets.
Leeds vs Stoke | Thursday 9th July 2020, 17:00 | Sky Sports
Leeds continue to stride towards the promised land. The league leaders can edge closer to promotion if they see off struggling Stoke at Elland Road.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men were 3-1 winners at Blackburn on Saturday, and return to home soil where they are unbeaten in five, keeping clean sheets in four of those.
The relentless nature of Leeds’ play has reaped rich rewards so far. At home, their Expected Goals is 2.19xG (highest), while their Expected Goals Against is 0.96xGA – the lowest.
Stoke eased their relegation fears with Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Barnsley, but will still be looking over their shoulders.
The Potters have been leaky at the back all season so that a very welcome clean sheet. However, one big problem has been their away form with just 16 points (W4-D4-L12) picked up on the road.
It’s no win in six away games for Stoke, who have conceded 13 times in that run, scoring just four. I don’t want my heart to rule head here, so it’s fair to say it’ll be an uphill task, but Stoke did knock Leeds out of the League Cup on penalties at Elland Road earlier in the season, and I’d snatch your hand off for a point.
On his day, Nick Powell is one of the best players in the league. The way he can dictate play and pull the strings in the number 10 role is superb. He’s been a ray of hope despite Stoke’s struggles, bagging five goals and recording four assists. But because of his nimble, agile footwork, he gets kicked around the park.
In the three games Powell has featured in since the restart, he’s been fouled 14 times. Six of those were against Boro when he snapped and got two silly yellow cards. Overall, he’s been fouled 54 times this season, and he’s very likely to be one of Stoke’s outlet balls in this game. He’ll be needed to hold the ball up and take the pressure off the backline.
I’m keen to look at those Leeds players that are likely to marshal Powell through this game. Both Powell and Stoke’s Tyrese Campbell will be asked to utilise the limited ball they see with the counter-attack being imperative to the visitor’s chances.
One of those will be Mateusz Klich. The 30-year-old has made a name for himself this season, and he’s made himself familiar to the Championship officials having picked up seven cautions.
The Pole is averaging two tackles and 1.6 fouls per game this season, and with the nimble Stoke players breaking away from him, he could have to resort to a tactical foul.
Referee Darren Bond booked Klich in the 1-1 draw with Preston on Boxing Day here, so there’s a bit of history there, which fits with his tough tackling.
It’s worth noting that holding midfielder Kalvin Phillips has been cautioned in twice, in three games, where Bond has been in charge. However, the 9/2 (Bet365) for a Klich card does look tempting.
Harrison to be the hero?
Jack Harrison was born in Stoke but has arrived at Leeds via The Big Apple. He is likely to prove a thorn in the Potters’ side with his pace and direct play.
Tommy Smith is likely to start at right-back for Stoke, but youngster Nathan Collins has played a couple of times in that role of late, although naturally a centre-half. Whoever starts for the visiting side will know they’ve had a game afterwards.
With Harrison’s direct play and the width Leeds utilise, on top of their sustained pressure, then they are a side that can rack up corners when going for the three points. If this is level late in the day, then look towards the in-play corner markets.
But pre-match, the evens (SkyBet) on Harrison to have a shot on target is worth taking. It’s similar to my thoughts from Leeds’ win over Fulham a couple of weekends ago.
The 23-year-old winger averages 1.8 shots per game and has recorded 23 shots on target, which is the second-most of any Leeds player after Patrick Bamford.
Some of the positions he takes up and drifts into are quite clever. It all means he gets chances to score. Just look at the positions he had three shots from against Cardiff without testing the keeper.
He had a shot on target from three attempts against Luton, one from two versus Fulham, and he recorded four shots against Blackburn on Saturday. It’s EVS for a shot on target, while it’s 4/5 for him to have 2+ shots.
Given the likely nature of this game, there should be chances for Leeds, so back Harrison to test Jack Butland.