Punishing an abject record
If there was one home match every club in the Premier League would circle as a must-win it would be Nottingham Forest’s visit. The only reason Steve Cooper’s side are not already relegated is their home form.
On their travels, the newly-promoted outfit have one win and four goals from 13 outings. That’s six points from an available 39 as well as 32 goals conceded. As a relegation battler, Leeds hardly have much to write home about themselves, but this is a visitor they have to be burying tonight.
Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackpool and West Ham United have all beaten Forest on their travels.
A week to boost confidence or leave you shot to pieces?
This is clearly the most important double-header of the season at Elland Road. Once Roy Hodgson has taken his Crystal Palace side home on Sunday afternoon the one remaining bottom-nine outfit visiting Leeds is managerless Leicester.
Forest’s aforementioned away record and Palace’s own struggles, pre-Hodgson, coupled with the sterner tests to come mean Leeds could do with going beyond 30 points this week. If you accept 35-plus keeps you safe, this is the week United need to put those numbers on the board, unless you take a chance on Bournemouth and West Ham away or a top-half surprise.
Tonight can either be the springboard to a confident rebound on Sunday or a disastrous soul-crusher which makes Palace a toxic pressure cooker of angst-ridden pain.
Does Cooper get back in?
Javi Gracia said Pascal Struijk started ahead of Liam Cooper on Saturday because he had more training hours under his belt over the past few weeks. The captain would come on to bank an invaluable 20 minutes in the capital, which may be enough to get his foot in the door for such an important match under the Elland Road lights.
The head coach may not have taken a chance on Cooper starting three matches in eight days, but could be open to rotating throughout this busy spell.
How are Rodrigo and Bamford deployed?
The two elephants in the room from the weekend are the club’s senior strikers. Neither started Saturday’s match which left everyone assuming it was a decision with one eye on tonight.
Gracia’s masterplan will be known from 6.45pm. Patrick Bamford, who has started eight of the last 11 games, will be sharp enough to start and looks the surer bet. Rodrigo’s condition was again talked down by Gracia yesterday, but the same language did not stop Luis Sinisterra starting at the weekend.
Rasmus Kristensen has been praised a lot by Gracia in recent weeks. There were the selfless turns in central defence and midfield which impressed the Spaniard and then the goal from the bench at Molineux which proved pivotal.
It may well be time for his turn at right-back again too tonight. Luke Ayling has had a rough ride in the past three matches and has been repeatedly exposed by tricky wingers.
His near-flawless brace of displays against Manchester United is disappearing in the rearview mirror. His Danish counterpart is by no means perfect at full-back, but it may well be his turn to start and take Ayling out of the firing line.