The inside track on Leeds United - and how they're expected to line-up against Newcastle United without key defender

Newcastle United host Leeds United at St James’s Park on Friday night as they look to claim their first three points of the season.

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 5:00 pm

Steve Bruce’s side sit 19th in the Premier League table with just one point from their opening four games, which came in a 2-2 draw with Southampton.

The Magpies need a win to build confidence and ease early relegation fears. Bruce needs a win to relieve the pressure from supporters, at least for another week anyway.

But what can United expect from their West Yorkshire counterparts?

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Inside track on Leeds United ahead of Newcastle United clash. (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

We caught up with the Yorkshire Evening Post’s chief football writer Graham Smyth to get the lowdown on Marcelo Bielsa’s men.

How would you sum up Leeds United’s start to the Premier League season?

GS: “So-so. Expecting them to beat Manchester United and Liverpool is unreasonable but last season, particularly the latter stages, raised the bar and they've yet to get there this season.

"The performances have not been as good as they were, but at least they took something from Burnley and Everton.”

It’s early days, of course, but do you think Leeds United could suffer from second season syndrome?

GS: “Lots of players have warned about it, director of football Victor Orta expects a more difficult season but I'm more in the Stuart Dallas camp. He said it doesn't have to be true and I agree.

"If Leeds play as they did last season they'll be fine, they just have to rediscover that form or find ways of counteracting the measures teams are taking to prevent them performing as they did in 2020/21.”

With Pascal Struijk's ban upheld, are Leeds United facing a potential defensive crisis? Who could come in?

GS: “Bielsa won't see it as a crisis because he has players he trusts who can come into the line-up. It isn't ideal to have Luke Ayling at centre-half but he performed solidly there last season.

"Jamie Shackleton or Stuart Dallas could play right-back or in centre-midfield and Mateusz Klich could come into the midfield. There are options.”

How do you expect Leeds United to line-up?

GS: “It depends on how Steve Bruce sets up. If he goes two up front, Leeds go to a back three, which could mean Kalvin Phillips drops into the back line in between Ayling and Liam Cooper. Stuart Dallas, Mateusz Klich and Junior Firpo could play ahead of them, with Rodrigo in behind the front three of Raphinha, Patrick Bamford and Jack Harrison.

"If Newcastle have one up front I expect a back four of Shackleton, Ayling, Cooper and Firpo, with Phillips in defensive midfield, Stuart Dallas and Rodrigo ahead of him and the front three as per usual.”

Which players should Newcastle United watch out for?

GS: “Raphinha is the obvious one. He still looks Leeds' best attacking threat at present, although Patrick Bamford has not been performing badly, he just hasn't had a great deal of service.”

Can you give a pre-match prediction?

GS: “In a word, no. Leeds should be capable of beating Newcastle but they're not in form.”

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