Villa’s important December kicks off with a trip to Elland Road on Friday night. Promotion rivals Leeds United sit six points behind Villa and three points off the promotion places. Leeds manager Thomas Christiansen has dubbed the match a “six-pointer” as a Leeds win keeps them in the promotion hunt. A Villa win consolidates their position in the Top 6 and creates some space between them and other aspirants.
Despite climbing to eighth, Leeds show all the characteristics of a mid-table Championship side - something Villa fans should know all about. Despite winning two of the last three, Leeds enters the match having won only six of an available 18 points. Wins against Middlesbrough (2-1) and Barnsley (2-0) bookended a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Wolves. But prior to the recent stretch, Leeds lost both 2-1 at home to Sheffield United and Derby County and 3-1 at Brentford. It’s hard to tell if this is a side finding its form or finding some benefit in the natural variation in outcomes over the course of a season.
Leeds plus-5 goal differential can be attributed to a 5-0 home win over Burton Albion in early September. Otherwise, it’s generally been a stalemate with the rest of the division. When looking at expected goals, the Whites have a minus-0.8 suggesting that Leeds are a side that isn’t taking it to the Championship, but rather one getting by. A disappointing loss to Reading and draw with Preston are two matches where Leeds didn’t get points it deserved. Leeds should feel fortunate to have gotten three points from Sunderland, Bolton and Ipswich, underscoring Leeds contradictory performances and potential for mid-table obscurity. They’re winning matches where they’ve been outplayed by lesser teams.
For Leeds to rise above the other Championship middlings, they’ll need do it on the strength of their attacking threats. Outstanding summer signing Samu Saiz leads a quartet of players with five goals. Fellow transfer Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Kalvin Phillips, and Gjanni Alioski also have a goal tally counted on one hand. And that’s a bit of the problem. Leeds lacks a proven goal scorer to carry them through rough patches, and some of the losses bear it out. The four have also contributed 12 assists in addition to the 20 goals. Villa’s weakened defense should have a clear understanding of who and what to stop. In general, the threats just haven’t materialized. As Leeds blog Through It All Together points out, Lassoga and other import Jay-Roy Grot have failed to deliver on the goals hoped for during the summer transfer window.
Leeds does a decent job keeping clean sheets - eight in total. But only two have been kept since mid-September. Keeping duties have been shared between Felix Weidwald and Andy Lonergan. The defense seems to wear down as games progress. Most of the goals Leeds concedes come later in matches. From the 75th minute on, Leeds has been outscored 8-3, a minus-5 differential.
Top-table sides have not been kind to Leeds. Aside from the win against Boro, their only win against a current top eight team was an impressive 3-0 win away to Bristol City. To say it’s been a mixed bag would be polite. Leeds has found it tough sledding against top sides. If Villa can sustain an early Leeds push and keep the game tied late, Villa might be able to escape Elland Road with three points and continued confidence to press on to one of the automatic promotion places. Solid wins co-mingled with rough losses makes Leeds a tough side to read in terms of what to expect.