The key battle for Leeds United, Newcastle United's dangerman and Graham Smyth's score prediction

The visit of Newcastle United presents a huge opportunity for Leeds United to kill two birds with one stone.

By Graham Smyth
Friday, 21st January 2022, 4:40 am

Victory for Marcelo Bielsa' s Whites will help them to continue climbing away from the drop zone and simultaneously worsen the plight of the bottom-three dwelling Magpies. Ahead of an international break a game like this is huge because of the mood that will either descend on Elland Road after a defeat or lighten the place, should they come out on top.

The last time Newcastle visited they were comprehensively thumped 5-2 as Patrick Bamford, Rodrigo, Stuart Dallas, Gjanni Alioski and Jack Harrison all found the net, but if anyone around Elland Road is honest they'll admit a 1-0 win would be more than good enough this time around.

Here's the YEP's take on a big game in LS11 on Saturday.

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KEY BATTLE

Defending the area

Newcastle signed Chris Wood and will therefore be aiming to get the ball in from wide areas. Leeds have to stop the visiting wingers from getting into those areas and delivering and they have to take care of Wood if the ball comes in. Newcastle have struggled for goals this season and Leeds can't let this be the time that the struggle ends. Pascal Struijk's return against West Ham United and the performance he produced against multi-skilled targetman Michail Antonio should give everyone a large measure of confidence that Leeds can keep Wood under control. It's the left-back area where concern might arise, with 18-year-old Leo Hjelde potentially going up against Kieran Trippier and whoever else Eddie Howe selects on the right hand flank. Stuart Dallas might play there but with Adam Forshaw out injured he may be needed in the middle of the pitch.

NEWCASTLE KEY MAN

DANGER MAN - Allan Saint Maximin is Newcastle United's chief threat to Leeds United's defence. Pic: Getty

In the absence of Callum Wilson, Newcastle’s key man is Allan Saint-Maximin, the club’s second-top scorer. He’s capable of creating something out of nothing, as he did against Watford last weekend when he opened the scoring. Also, he’s capable of over-elborating outside the area, and that’s a frustration to fans at times, especially now that Wood needs balls in the box. Bielsa will have a plan but keeping Saint-Maximin out of the game is no easy feat. He's mesmeric when he runs with the ball and can hurt teams with even a little space.

GRAHAM SMYTH'S VERDICT

This is a game Leeds United can win. Victory will not only allow them to head into the international break in fine form, it will ramp up the pressure on Eddie Howe and Newcastle and widen the gap between the two teams. A draw is no good for the visitors at all and Leeds don't play for draws so it could be an entertaining one. I expect Leeds to win. They have momentum and players returning to fitness and form. They're the better side with a better plan. Scoreline prediction: 3-0