Paul Cook’s Wigan host Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds on Sunday afternoon and EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) picks out his best bet.
Wigan v Leeds | Sunday 4th November 2018, 13:30 | Sky Sports
After securing the League One title last season, Wigan have had a solid start to life back in the Championship.
Visitors Leeds United, meanwhile, are hoping to cut-short their 15-year top flight exile and have a realistic chance of doing so in a heavily-congested promotion race.
Wigan’s form waning
Of the 24 teams in the second-tier, Wigan look the most likely to still be in the division in 2019-20.
This sense of relative security is new to Latics fans, who have not seen their side finish outside the top or bottom six of any division since 2008-09 – the days of Amr Zaki and Paul Scharner.
At a time when the ownership of the club is changing hands, it helps that the club’s prospects beyond the immediate term are fairly clear.
The goals though are drying up: they bagged 10 of them in the first four games of their campaign yet just eight in the subsequent 11 encounters.
Nick Powell has recently looked burdened by the team’s reliance on him and, given that number 10 by trade Josh Windass starting as a false nine at Sheffield United last week, it seems worrying that they played as many as 80 long balls.
The West Lancashire outfit should not find themselves in trouble but, after three defeats in four, they aren’t in the ideal position to face automatic promotion contenders.
Can Leeds get back to their best?
When Marcelo Bielsa first took over at Leeds, he had a seismic impact with attacking, high-energy displays against Stoke and Derby bringing about two victories and seven goals in the first two games.
Understandably, it has been difficult for them to replicate that intensity in every game, so it is important that they have been able to stay organized through the lean spells.
Liam Cooper has been hugely influential at centre-back alongside Pontus Jansson, with Kalvin Phillips showing the necessary aggression to fulfil the holding role.
In Barry Douglas, who is expected to be back fit for Sunday, they have one of the most intelligent left-backs in the division and, in Bailey Peacock-Farrell, a commanding goalkeeper.
They have improved going forward in recent games, outshooting both Ipswich and Forest 18-3, even if they could only score three goals and accrue four points.
They have been helped by the return to fitness of creative maestro Pablo Hernandez, who averages 3.3 short key passes per game – more than anyone in the Championship.
The super Spaniard might help them show the kind of incision that made them such a threat in the embryonic stages of the campaign.
The tactics board
Paul Cook has stuck with his beloved 4-2-3-1 every week this season; it is normally a case of three narrowly-placed attacking midfielders, rather than one of them flanked by two wide men.
The downside to this system, which requires attacking full-backs in Reece James and Antonee Robinson, is that it can lead to big gaps in the defensive third, as we saw in the 4-2 loss at Sheffield United.
While Cedric Kipre and Chey Dunkley are athletic defenders and showed against Bristol City that they can deal with simple balls into the box, they can also look rash and error-prone when exposed in wide open spaces.
Leeds, who are at their best when given the space to play fluid, one-touch football, might therefore relish this encounter.
There will be opportunities for Samuel Saiz, if he’s rewarded for his impact from the bench against Forest last week with a start, to run at Wigan’s defence, or for Mateusz Klich to break in behind the opposing midfield and pick up goalscoring positions.
The betting angle
By now, it will be clear that we’re backing Leeds.
There are narrow odds-against quotes available on the outright price, but we reckon it’s worth stretching that bit further to back a win ‘to nil' at 16/5 with 188BET.
Each of the Whites’ last five victories have been accompanied by a clean sheet, while Wigan have failed to score in five of their last 11.
Wigan v Leeds – Leeds to win ‘to nil' (16/5 188Bet)