The Championship is back to a full weekend slate after playing a partial schedule last week because of the FA Cup. We’ve already written about the match that kicks off the weekend – a bit of a rivalry match between Preston North End and Derby County – so we turn our attention to the match that is taking place at the top of the league table.
Leeds United currently leads the Championship despite a so-so record over the past month, and they play host to second place Norwich City tomorrow in what should be one of the most exciting matches of the weekend. Though both clubs’ recent struggles has knocked them off the top of our Power Rankings, the victor in this one might make a good case for a return to the top, especially after a shocking loss by our #2 club Hull City last week.
Let’s take a look at the clubs:
Norwich City earned a spot in this series last week, a match that I accurately predicted for probably the first time this season. After that draw with Sheffield United last week, the Canaries maintained sole possession of second place. They boast 54 points, with a record of 15-9-5, though they are only 1-3-1 in their last five matches. This recent stretch hasn’t impacted their place in the league table, as the Canraies have maintained a top two position in the league for 13 of the past 14 matchdays.
Not to be outdone, Leeds United currently leads the league with 57 points and a 17-6-6 record. Leeds has also had a recent stretch where they’ve been a little off their form (2-0-3 in their previous five), but they haven’t dipped below 4th in the standings all season and have led the league after 19 of their 29 matches, including after the last eight.
The Previous Match-Up
When these clubs met previously, it appeared that they were going to be spending the season at opposite ends of the table. Granted, it was only the fifth match for both clubs back on that August day in Norwich, but Leeds came away victorious, their fourth win in five matches to begin the season (they didn’t lose a match until Matchday 9, starting 5-3-0). The Canaries, on the other hand, fell to 1-1-3 and 17th at that early stage, which would mark their low point in the table, before they turned it around with a long unbeaten streak from mid-October to Boxing Day (9-3-0).
In their first match, Leeds scored twice in the span offive minutes, first with a rebound by Mateusz Klich in the 21st minute, and later with a screamer of a goal from Ezgjan Alioski in the 36th. Leeds took that 2-0 lead into the halftime break, and added a security goal from Pablo Hernandez midway through the second half to secure the three points in a 3-0 victory.
Home and Away Results
Elland Road plays host to this one, and Leeds has to be pleased to be going for the season sweep at home. They are 9-3-2 at home on the season with a +13 goal differential. Their goals against average at home (0.71 per match) is nearly half a goal better than their overall mark (1.07). In only two matches – the two lost at home – has Leeds surrendered more than a goal, and they have recorded SEVEN clean sheets in front of the home crowd.
The Canaries haven’t been terrible on the road, and see nearly the same GAA difference in their road games (0.93 per match) and overall (1.31). This has helped them to lose only one match on the road all season (6-7-1, with a +10 goal differential), an early season defeat at the hands of Sheffield United. They just like to save the offense for the home crowd, something that might come back to hurt them in this one.
Scorers and Defense, Oh My!
Finnish striker Teemu Pukki leads the Canaries offense in scoring, and has scored four times in the past five matches, pushing his season total to 17, which is good for third in the league. The Whites of Leeds United are led by Kemar Roofe, a top ten scorer in his own right, who has scored 14 goals on the season, though only once in the past five matches.
Bailey Peacock-Farrell has manned the net for Leeds in 27 of 29 matches this season and has 10 clean sheets, tying him for second in the league. But Peacock-Farrell will be on the bench again, as manager Marcelo Bielsa announced that keeper Kiko Casilla will be starting in his second consecutive match after joining Leeds on a free transfer from Real Madrid during the January transfer period.
Tim Krul, the Canaries keeper, has played every minute in goal for his squad, and seems entrenched as the starter. He hasn’t been terrible, and has eight clean sheets of his own, but only one in the past ten. He has also has let in more goals, but still has a respectible 1.31 GAA.
How I See It
A win for Leeds would secure a six point lead at the top of the table regardless of how Sheffield United does in their match against bottom dweller Bolton Wanderers, while also securing the league double against Norwich for the first time since the 1980-81 season (though, to be fair, the clubs have only shared a league for 13 of those seasons).
At the same time, should Norwich find victory for only the second time in the last 10 matches played in Leeds (1-4-4), they would pull even at the top of the table in what could be a three-club tie at 54 points (they would likely trail at least Sheffield United in that case on goal differential).
With the top of the league on the line, I think I have to go with the club that isn’t playing a brand new keeper over the man that got them to the top of the table. We could enter the first Sunday of February with that three-club mess at the top of the league, which would be super exciting for all fans of the Championship.
My prediction: Leeds United 1-2 Norwich City
Actual result: Leeds United 1-3 Norwich City
Until next time…