Leeds v Middlesbrough
Friday August 31, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports
Leeds top of the Championship tree
Leeds dispatched Norwich with the minimum of fuss at Carrow Road last weekend to cement their position at the top of the Championship table. Marcelo Bielsa's men ran out 3-0 winners with goals from Mateusz Klich, Ezgjan Alioski and Pablo Hernandez all getting on the scoresheet.
The Whites remain unbeaten with 13 points tabled from a possible 15 (W4-D1-L0) and their enigmatic Argentine head coach hailed the impact of Hernandez post-match in Norfolk. The Spanish playmaker has now been involved in 13 Leeds goals this calendar year with Bielsa keen to pile on the praise.
Leeds made nine changes for their midweek EFL Cup exit against Preston with only Pontus Jansson and Kalvin Phillips surviving. Bielsa is expected to bring his front-runners back into the mix for Friday night, although Liam Cooper remains sidelined, while midfield duo Stuart Dallas and Adam Forshaw are also out.
Middlesbrough making steady progress
Middlesbrough have bounced back from a dreadful opening 45 minutes against Millwall in their first fixture to pick up 13 points from their five games (W4-D1-L0). The Teessiders have won each of their last four outings without conceding, including last Friday night's 1-0 triumph at home to West Brom.
Daniel Ayala capped his return to the team with a last-minute winner - the fourth goal a Boro defender has notched already this term. Although Tony Pulis' men enjoyed just 38% possession, the hosts were much the better side on the night and dominated the Expected Goals count at the Riverside Stadium.
Pulis must now decide whether to persist with a new-look 3-5-2 system featuring a three-man centre-back partnership between Ayala, Aden Flint and Dael Fry. Meanwhile, Muhamed Besic is pushing for a start, while Jordan Hugill is hoping to oust one of Britt Assombalonga and Martin Braithwaite up top.
Honours even at Elland Road
Leeds have W4-D1-L0 in their last five home meetings against Middlesbrough and are rated 2.265/4 favourites to enhance that record. The Whites are enjoying their best ever start to a second-tier season, although performance data suggests the hosts haven't been as impressive as their results would suggest.
Marcelo Bielsa's boys have scored 14 goals already this campaign but have only generated 7.10 Expected Goals. What's more, the Yorkshire giants are averaging just 1.08 xG from open play and last weekend they notched three times despite returning a total xG value of 0.72. Put simply, those numbers aren't unsustainable.
Middlesbrough 3.505/2 have equalled their best points return in this division at this stage of a season set back in 1994/95. Despite being under the tutorship of renowned defensive boss Tony Pulis, the Teessiders are actually posting very similar figures to Leeds across their opening five fixtures.
Under Pulis last term, Boro W2-D2-L2 at top-half teams and they've started 2018/19 with four points from trips to Bristol City and Millwall, suggesting their might be a bit of mileage in supporting 3.55 quotes on the draw.
Few goals fancied on Friday
Leeds haven't failed to score in the league thus far, seeing four of their five games cross the Over 2.5 Goals 2.001/1 whitewash with matches averaging 3.60 goals per-game.
Meanwhile, Middlesbrough's only goals against came in the first half of their opening encounter and three of their five tussles have produced Under 2.5 Goals 1.9420/21 profit as fixtures have averaged just 2.20 goals per-game.
Collectively, the two teams' first 10 contests have produced an average of just 1.61 Expected Goals from open play, and with the visitors possibly employing a three-man centre-back system, I'm happy opposing goals at Elland Road.