Championship Saturday – Sheffield United v Leeds United

As mentioned in both the weekly Power Rankings and a look at the Week 15 slate, Championship clubs are playing twice this week. In the spirit of that, I will be highlighting a “Match of the Day” from three of the days with multiple matches.

Tuesday, we took a look at Preston North End and Middlesbrough, which ended in a 1-1 draw after Middlesbrough evened it up just after half time. So much for my predicted clean sheet. Boro dropped a spot into third place because of Leeds United’s victory over Reading, while Preston North End moved up a spot into 15th.

On Wednesday, it was Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest, which ended in a 5-5 barn burner after being tied 3-3 at the halftime break. Tammy Abraham scored four times for Villa in the match – after I highlighted him in the preview – which nearly doubled his scoring output on the season. It was what I dubbed the battle for 7th place, and Forest actually moved up to 6th after Derby County lost to Stoke City, while Villa maintained its 8th place spot.

For tomorrow’s matchup, I’m going to highlight the match between two Top 5 clubs, with Sheffield United welcoming Leeds United to Bramall Lane for their first meeting of the season. Which team will be the one to come out on top?

Let’s take a look at the clubs:

The Records

Sheffield United earned the coveted title of Dark Horse from us earlier in the season, and thus far have been one of the few so feted to avoid a slump afterwards. They notched win number ten on Tuesday against Brentford, and have gone 10-4-5 overall on the season with a +9 goal differential. They have found most of their success at home, with a 5-3-1 record with a +7 GD. They have not been terrible on the road, but four losses on the road leaves them at 5-1-4 away from home, though the still have a positive GD of +2. That’s good enough for 34 points on the season, two points behind Leeds for second place and that coveted automatic promotion.

Leeds United has ended 10 of 19 matchdays at the top of the table, and currently trail leader Norwich City by one point with 36. They’ve amassed those points with an overall record of 10-6-3 and a +15 goal differential. Like most clubs, they have found greater success at home, with a 6-3-1 record (+9 GD). In what may matter more for this matchup, however, is their 4-3-2 record on the road, where they have still managed to outscore their opponents by four goals.

Opponents in Common

We’re fortunate this late in the season that of the 19 matches each team has played, they have 16 opponents in common. And in those 16 matches, Leeds United has performed slightly better.

Leeds is 8-6-2 in those matches, only sharing victories against Preston North End, Hull City, Wigan Athletic, and Norwich City. In seven of the 16 matches, Leeds improved on Sheffield’s result against the same club – winning or draw against a Sheffield loss and winning against a draw – while Sheffield only improved on three such Leeds performances.

Overall, Sheffield United isn’t much worse, checking in with a 7-4-5 record. Leeds United improved on all five Sheffield losses, going 2-3-0 against those opponents. Not to be outdone. Sheffield United went 1-1-0 against the two clubs that Leeds lost to. The clubs also share a draw against Sheffield Wednesday, rounding out the results.

Club Strengths & Weaknesses

As evidenced by their larger goal differential (+15 versus +9), Leeds United has been stronger on the defensive side of the ball, as both clubs have scored 32 goals on the season. Both clubs have three goal losses – Sheff United 3-0 to Middlesbrough and Leeds 4-1 to West Bromwich Albion – but otherwise have kept most matches close.

Leeds United keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell has six clean sheets on the season (in 17 matches), compared to Sheffield United’s Dean Henderson‘s five (in 19 matches), so there is not much difference at the back end of both defenses. The difference in goal differential is driven primarily by multi-goal matches of the opposition, with Sheffield United opponents scoring more than once in eight contests this year versus four matches for Leeds.

Billy Sharp leads Sheff United in scoring with 10 goals (in 17 matches), with David McGoldrick second on the club with five goals (and an assist). Leeds United is lead by Kemar Roofe (eight goals and two assists in 12 matches), but also has Pablo Hernández (six goals) and Mateusz Klich (five goals and five assists) providing assistance.

How I See It

Leeds United lost both matches to Sheffield United last season, and prior to that, their last matchup in league play was in 2011 before Sheffield United was relegated to League One.

Sheffield United’s season has been one of mini streaks. After losing their first two matches to open the season, they won four matches in a row, then were unbeaten in five matches after their third loss (4-1-0) and are in the midst of a three match unbeaten streak, albeit with only one win and two draws.

Leeds United, on the other hand, started the season on a tear, and did not lose until their ninth match on the season, and they have not been lower than 4th on the league table all season. They are on their own small streak at the moment, winning two straight matches, with the caveat that they were both at home against clubs currently in 14th (Bristol City) and 20th (Reading). They also lost their last road match – the aforementioned loss to West Brom.

Sheffield United is the slight favorite due to home pitch advantage, but I could easily see any of the three possible outcomes happening. A Sheffield win would elevate them over Leeds in the standings, though it may not be enough to get them to second place depending on how the rest of the weekend shakes out. I’m going with my gut on this one (which will probably be wrong based on my performance predicting the outcome of the other two matches this week) and predicting a draw between these two highly-placed clubs.

My prediction: Sheffield United 2 – 2 Leeds United

Until next time…

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