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Friday, 18 January, 2019

Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds may have the measure of Middlesbrough

Martin Braithwaite unlikely to play

Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa lays down his tactics
1 of 1

Sky Bet Championship
Sky Sports Football, 7.45pm Friday

Belief has been growing among Leeds supporters but the markets have not caught up with the stunning turnaround at Elland Road and there is a strong case for backing the Yorkshire giants to beat promotion rivals Middlesbrough.

Leeds have been outside the top flight since 2004 and did not appear to be getting any nearer to the big time when finishing 13th in last season's Sky Bet Championship.

Owner Andrea Radrizzani had gained a reputation for making poor decisions but took a bold course of action this summer by appointing vastly experienced manager Marcelo Bielsa.

Five league games into the new regime and Leeds are top of the table after a string of impressive performances.

They delivered a couple of early statement results – winning 3-1 at home to Stoke and 4-1 at Derby – and there has been no sign of any significant drop-off in performance.

In a 46-game season it is impossible to be perfect on every occasion and Leeds were under-par when drawing 2-2 at Swansea ten days ago.

But they showed another side to their character against the Swans, twice fighting back to level, and were back to their slick selves at the weekend when romping to a 3-0 success at Norwich.

The turnaround from last season is all the more remarkable because Leeds are doing it with largely the same group of players.

Left-back Barry Douglas is the only one of their summer signings to have nailed down a regular place in the starting line-up but several members of last season's squad have taken their game to another level.

Perhaps the best example is Polish midfielder Mateusz Klich, who has made five league appearances this term (one more than the whole of last season) and scored three goals.

There is nothing about Leeds's performances to indicate that their early-season results are a flash in the pan and they have every reason to be confident of beating Boro.

Both teams go into the match on 13 points but it has been more of a grind for Boro, who scored injury-time goals in the 2-2 at Millwall and last Friday's 1-0 success at home to West Brom.

They have looked solid in defence but Tony Pulis makes no secret of his wish to add more midfield and attacking options and has been frantically trying to get deals done before the August loan deadline.

Pulis is confident his squad will be stronger when the window shuts but there has been speculation over the future of some of his players, including Danish attacker Martin Braithwaite, who has asked for a move to Spain.

Braithwaite seems unlikely to retain his place and could be missed as potential replacements Jordan Hugill and Ashley Fletcher have been short of game-time.

Having to change a winning team is far from ideal and it could cost Boro as they prepare to take on their toughest challenge of the season.

1pt 5-4 Betway, Hills

Team news
Liam Cooper is available after injury but Adam Forshaw will not be ready until after the international break.

Sam McQueen has signed on a season long loan from Southampton but Rudy Getede (ankle) continues to miss out.

Key stat
Leeds have won four of their last five home matches against Middlesbrough.

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Leeds have won four of their last five home matches against Middlesbrough.
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