Leeds United will be looking to lift themselves out of the Premier League’s bottom three when they welcome top-four favourites Newcastle United to Elland Road on Saturday lunchtime.

A fearsome battle for a top-four finish and Premier League survival is approaching its climax as third-placed Newcastle United head to Elland Road to face relegation-threatened Leeds United to kick things off on Matchday 36 of the 2022/23 league campaign.

The Leeds hierarchy decided to ride their luck with four games remaining by appointing survival specialist Sam Allardyce as manager until the end of the season to steer them towards safety in the Premier League.

Big Sam’s first game as Leeds manager ended in defeat last weekend, with his side going down 2-1 at Manchester City in what was a dogged display that, coupled with results elsewhere, plunged the Yorkshire club deep into relegation trouble. Leeds head into the weekend sitting in 19th position in the table, two points adrift of safety, with just three more games to play.

Having said that, there is certainly a more optimistic feeling around the hosts at the moment. And that is credit to Allardyce, whose safety-first approach is designed to ensure his team stays in the games rather than shipping in fives and sixes and surrendering the game and all three points inside half an hour of football. He now takes charge of his first home game as Leeds manager and goes up against one of his former employers.

As for Newcastle United, they suffered a rare home defeat when they lost to Arsenal last Sunday in a game in which they failed to take their chances. They now head back out on the road, hoping to return to winning ways at Elland Road as they look to book their Champions League ticket sooner rather than later.

The Magpies remain in third place, but they will be starting to look over their shoulders given that a resurgent Liverpool have somehow re-entered the top-four debate. The two teams played out a scoreless stalemate in the reverse fixture back in December last year.

However, the corresponding fixture last season saw Newcastle United pick up a vital 1-0 win over the hosts thanks to Jonjo Shelvey’s deflected free-kick goal in what proved to be the turning point in their relegation battle last season. The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at both teams as they get set to clash at St. James’ Park on Saturday afternoon.

Team News & Tactics

Leeds United

Leeds United boss Sam Allardyce has reaffirmed that he is not expecting to have key defensive midfielder Tyler Adams back this season as the American remains sidelined with a hamstring injury picked up in March, which comes as a big blow to the Whites’ survival prospects this season.

Allardyce also confirmed three other absences ahead of Leeds’s upcoming match against Newcastle, with Liam Cooper, Stuart Dallas, and Luis Sinisterra all ruled out for the vital clash. Based on their resilient performance against City, the Leeds United boss will not feel the need to make many changes to his starting line-up.

Allardyce dropped goalkeeper Illan Meslier last weekend, and his replacement, Joel Robles, did himself no harm at all with his performance at the Etihad Stadium. So he could be set to continue in goal against Newcastle.

While Luke Ayling, Junior Firpo, and Max Wober fared relatively well against the reigning champions and should keep their places, there could be a bit of reshuffling in the back four. Ayling could switch back to the right-back role, with Robin Koch coming back into the middle of the defence, having proven to be a solid partner for Wober in the past.

Veteran midfielder Adam Forshaw instantly showcased his wide skill set last week and simply has to start. Marc Roca was frustrating once again versus City and could drop out on Saturday. Weston McKennie has not been at the races either. But his energetic presence, physicality, and long throw-in make him a more attractive option as Leeds look to match Newcastle’s intensity. So, the USMNT international should get the nod in midfield, with Jack Harrison making up the midfield three.

Meanwhile, Crysencio Summerville and Wilfried Gnonto will look to put their pace to good use out-wide this Saturday. The youngsters can be a weapon on the break out wide, while Harrison should be diligent enough to put a foot in as the central attacking midfielder while getting forward to support the forwards. Rodrigo scored after coming off the bench at the Etihad and could well be set for a return to the starting side given Leeds’s desperate need for a victory.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Robles; Ayling, Koch, Wober, Firpo; McKennie, Forshaw, Harrison; Summerville, Rodrigo, Gnonto

Newcastle United

Midfielder Joelinton will be fit for Saturday’s trip to Leeds despite concerns he could be sidelined with an ankle injury after the Brazilian limped off in Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Arsenal. This is not the only fitness boost Eddie Howe has received over the past 24 hours, as the Newcastle boss also shared a positive update on Sean Longstaff’s ongoing foot injury.

The midfielder has not suffered a break in his foot after visiting a specialist. He remains a doubt for Saturday’s trip to Elland Road, although there remains a chance he could return for the home game against Brighton next midweek.

There are unlikely to be any changes in Howe’s 4-3-3 at Elland Road. Nick Pope will continue to function in goal for the Magpies. Sven Botman will form a defensive partnership with Fabian Schar at the heart of Newcastle’s backline, flanked by the creative presence of Kieran Trippier and rock-solid Dan Burn.

The latter could have his hands full, having to deal with speedsters like Jack Harrison and Wilfried Gnonto on Saturday. No changes are expected in the midfield either, with Brazilian duo Bruno Guimaraes and Joelinton rotating in the No. 6 and 8 roles from time to time during the game. Meanwhile, Joe Willock’s darts into the box add another goal threat to the Magpies’ attack.

Jacob Murphy has enjoyed an extended run in the starting lineup. But he could be replaced by Newcastle’s joint second-top scorer, Miguel Almiron, at the right flank this weekend. Allan Saint-Maximin is pushing for a starting spot after returning as a substitute against Arsenal following his recovery from a hamstring issue, but will have to contend with a super-sub role here.

The other big selection dilemma that Howe has ahead of Leeds is who starts up top. Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak played key roles in firing Newcastle to the cusp of Champions League qualification. But Howe has tended to rotate his two strikers rather than pair them together, at least from the start.

Wilson and Isak both started together for the first time against Arsenal last weekend, with the Sweden international operating in a wide role and Wilson deployed in his customary No. 9 position.

Although Newcastle failed to find a way past Aaron Ramsdale, who produced a superb display in the Gunners’ goal, Howe has hinted in his pre-match press conference that he will consider repeating the experiment of starting both Alexander Isak and Callum Wilson together against Leeds United on Saturday.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Pope; Trippier, Schar, Botman, Burn; Willock, Bruno, Joelinton; Almiron, Wilson, Isak

Key Stats

  • Newcastle United have won seven of their 13 away games against Leeds United in the Premier League.
  • The Magpies have won four of their last five away games in the Premier League.
  • The Whites have won only one of their last five league games on home soil.
  • Leeds have allowed 20 goals in the last six matches, whereas Newcastle have netted 13 times in the last four.
  • Leeds have accumulated a mere one point from their last six games.

Player to Watch

Alexander Isak

Embed from Getty Images

The Swedish sensation has not scored in Newcastle’s last three games, having bagged a double in the 6-1 thrashing of Tottenham. But that is more down to the fact he has been used as an assist-making left-sided winger, with Callum Wilson taking up the central poacher role.

Isak was a livewire against Arsenal, drifting inside from a left-wide position and causing Arsenal right-back Ben White all sorts of problems. But he was not able to get on the end of moves. We are backing the former Dortmund and Real Sociedad striker to put on an improved final third performance here and find the back of the net against a leaky Leeds defence on Saturday.


Leeds United 1-2 Newcastle United

This is a game that could have major ramifications at both ends of the table, i.e., in the top-four race and the relegation scrap. If Newcastle United win this, they would only need one more win to lock up a top-four spot. On the other hand, it is do or die for Leeds, who are in dire need of winning this match.

This could well be the last chance saloon for the Whites’ to get out of trouble, so three points would be absolutely huge. They showed a bit of fight and passion in what was Sam Allardyce’s first game as boss. The hosts will need to stay in the game and stifle Newcastle for as long as possible to get their home support behind them before trying to catch the Toon on the break and nick a goal.

That said, we cannot see anything but a Newcastle United win here. Tension and pressure will likely be running high for both teams here, all of which could bring a cagey clash as the pair look to avoid defeat. Still, the visitors should have enough quality on the pitch to pull out a positive result from this one.

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