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[Image] Can Pulis’ men get back to winning ways? – Predicted 3-5-2 Middlesbrough XI to face Leeds United

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Predicted Middlesbrough line-up to face Leeds United in the Championship

Middlesbrough will be looking to get back to winning ways when they face off against EFL Championship title contenders Leeds United on Saturday afternoon at the Riverside Stadium.

The Teessiders were handed a shock 2-0 defeat by lower-league outfit Newport County in their FA Cup fourth-round replay on Tuesday night. Following that, Tony Pulis’ side will be aiming to bounce back with a strong performance against Marcelo Bielsa’s team this weekend.

The last time these two teams met, was back in September last year at the Elland Road. That game ended in a goalless draw. Currently, in the fifth position in the table, Boro have a chance to move into the fourth place, should they win and West Brom drop points.

Team News

Jordan Hugill and Britt Assombalonga came off with some minor problems during the game against Newport County, but are expected to be ready for the weekend. Lewis Wing is carrying a groin injury and is a doubt, while George Saville, who missed the FA Cup tie with an ankle problem, could miss out again.

Here’s how Middlesbrough line up against the Whites on Saturday afternoon:

Predicted Middlesbrough XI

Manager: Tony Pulis

Formation: 3-5-2

Darren Randolph (GK)

Having been left out of the cup tie against Newport County, the former West Ham United goalkeeper should return to the starting line-up on Saturday.

Daniel Ayala (CB)

The Spanish centre-half did not have the best of nights against Newport on Tuesday and needs to step it up against the second-placed team in the league this weekend.

Aden Flint (CB)

The summer signing also endured a forgettable outing in the cup tie, but has been a reliable performer for the Teessiders at the back and should feature from kick-off again.

Dael Fry

Dael Fry (CB)

The young defender has been a regular in the lineup for Boro this term and should hold on to his place in the three-man backline on Saturday afternoon.

Ryan Shotton (RWB)

The 30-year-old should feature as the right wing-back for Pulis’ side and will have the task of keeping the Leeds United wide players in check.

Jonny Howson (CM)

He has featured in every Championship match for the Teesside outfit this season and has contributed with five assists. Howson should be in line for a starting berth against the Peacocks.

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John Obi Mikel

John Obi Mikel (CM)

The former Chelsea midfielder started in the league win over West Brom last weekend but wasn’t involved in the cup tie. His experience can come in handy for Boro in this crucial match.

Muhamed Besic (CM)

Besic was another midfielder who wasn’t part of the starting XI for the Teesside outfit on Tuesday night. The on-loan Evertonian should be in line for a start on Saturday.

George Friend (LWB)

The 31-year-old is the only specialist left-back at Pulis’ disposal and should feature once again from kick-off against Marcelo Bielsa’s side this weekend.

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Jordan Hugill

Jordan Hugill (ST)

The 26-year-old is a regular fixture in attack for the home team and has scored seven times in all competitions this term. He is expected to start in Saturday’s game against Leeds.

Read More: Middlesbrough should have signed this Hull City star on deadline day – would have been a brilliant capture

Britt Assombalonga (ST)

The former Nottingham Forest forward had little impact against Newport County but had scored a brace against West Brom last week. His heroics of last weekend should warrant him a starting berth on Saturday.

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Leeds Dragon

Throwback to Leeds United’s glory days: The Whites’ march to the semi-finals of the 2000-01 UEFA Champions League

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A throwback to Leeds United’s glory days: Reliving the Whites march to the semi-finals of the 2000-01 UEFA Champions League

The agonising tale of Leeds United’s dramatic downfall in English football since the turn of the century continues to be a burning topic of discussion amongst the football fans in West Yorkshire, with the Whites’ period of exile from the top-flight completing the 15-year mark at the end of the 2018-19 season. 

It looked as if the Yorkshire giants were finally going to be roused from their deep sleep by the Midas touch of manager Marcelo Bielsa, with Leeds operating in the upper reaches of the Championship for large quarters of this past season.

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The Whites were on top of the standings at one point of time and it looked for certain that they were going to announce their return to the mainstream of English football in an emphatic manner.

However, as we all know that it is a long and hard slog for each and every team in the second-tier, a poor run of form over the Easter period saw Leeds finish below the automatic promotion places, with Norwich City and Sheffield United securing the top-two berth.

A subsequent 4-3 defeat at the hands Derby County in the playoff semi-finals meant that Leeds’ surge for promotion came to nothing in the end.

Now, it is up to Leeds to put all that disappointment behind themselves and start right from the scratch next season, although that is hardly an easy thing to do.

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Rewinding to the time around the turn of the century, Leeds’ start to the new century wasn’t a bad one after all given that the Whites enjoyed a successful campaign on all fronts in the 2000-01 season.

Leeds might be a second-tier club nowadays but things at West Yorkshire were a lot brighter some fifteen years ago when the Whites used to finish in the top-four in the Premier League on a consistent basis and also compete in European tournaments.

The fans of the current generation are unlikely to have any memories of the club taking part in European competitions but they might as well have heard stories from the older heads about Leeds’ heroics on the European stage.

As a matter of fact, the Whites might currently be in oblivion as far as top-flight and European football is concerned but there are fans who surely still recall the success that David O’Leary’s side tasted in the 2000-01 UEFA Champions League.

Leeds were unable to build on their amazing European run though, and went on to compete in the UEFA Cup for a couple of more seasons before ultimately fading into obscurity following their relegation from the Premier League at the end of the 2003-04 campaign.

Indeed, the financial crisis at the club was a matter of humiliation at that time and it tarnished Leeds’ image to a great extent.

However, it is definitely worth taking a walk down the memory lane and bringing back the memories of Leeds’ glorious run in the 2000-01 Champions League.

As Marcelo Bielsa and his side get their preparations underway for the upcoming Championship campaign, let us relive the European heroics of David O’Leary’s side from that particular season.

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Background

Michael Bridges’ 19 goals in the 1999-00 Premier League season propelled Leeds United to a 3rd-place finish in the league, just behind champions Man United and runners-up Arsenal.

As a result of that, Leeds secured an entry into to the third qualifying round of the 2000-01 UEFA Champions League. Only the top two teams in the Premier League used to secure qualification to the group stages of Europe’s elite club competition in those days.

As a part of their preparations heading into the Champions League, Leeds splashed the cash in the summer of 2000 and brought in a number of high-profile signings, including Olivier Dacourt from Lens, Rio Ferdinand from West Ham, Mark Viduka from Celtic and Dominic Matteo from Liverpool. Robbie Keane was also brought in on loan from Inter Milan in the winter transfer window.

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Qualifying Round

Leeds United were drawn to face German outfit 1860 Munich in the final qualifying round prior to the group stages of the competition and the Whites made it through after 180 minutes of neck-to-neck football over two legs. 

The first leg at Elland Road witnessed a tense, hard-fought encounter between the two sides, as O’Leary’s side secured a 2-1 victory to carry a clear advantage into the second leg.

Goals from Alan Smith and Ian Harte on either side of the halfway mark set the tone for Leeds and Paul Agostino’s 90th-minute strike proved to be nothing more than a mere consolation.

With the vital away goal in their pocket, a 1-0 victory at home would have been enough for Munich to guarantee qualification to the group stage. However, Leeds put up a resolute show at the back and kept the opposition at bay, with Alan Smith’s 46th-minute strike sending them through 3-1 on aggregate.

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First Group Stage

The Yorkshire giants were drawn in the group of death (Group H) together with continental heavyweights AC Milan and Barcelona, whilst Turkish giants Besiktas were in the mix as well.

Leeds didn’t have the best possible start though, as they kicked off their campaign with a 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Barcelona at Camp Nou.

Goals from Rivaldo and Frank de Boer in the first half coupled with Patrick Kluivert’s brace in the second half sunk the West Yorkshire outfit and marked a dreadful start to the group stages.

They did, however, resurrect their campaign in their second game against AC Milan at Elland Road. Leeds showed plenty of character and resilience to stop their opponents from scoring and Lee Bowyer’s 89th-minute strike handed them a surprise 1-0 victory and a valuable three points.

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Up next for Leeds was a double-header against Turkish club Besiktas, the first of which was scheduled to be played at Elland Road.

O’Leary’s men were the favourites heading into the fixture and they hardly gave the opposition any breathing space, as the Whites romped home with an emphatic 6-0 victory. New signings Viduka and Matteo got their names on the scoresheet, while Bowyer once again starred with a brace.

Leeds and Besiktas played out a goalless draw in Turkey before the Whites played host to Barcelona at Elland Road towards the end of October. A repeat of that 4-0 demolition would have been anticipated by many but it proved to be a completely different story when the Whites played the La Liga giants at home.

Bowyer opened the scoring in the 5th minute and it looked as if Leeds were going to bag all three points, only to be denied by a last-minute equaliser from Rivaldo.

The Yorkshire giants went into the final group game at San Siro knowing that a draw would be enough to secure qualification to the next round, given that Milan had already booked their place in the second group stage.

The game finished 1-1, with Serginho’s second-half equaliser cancelling out Matteo’s strike at the halfway mark. Barcelona went on to thrash Besiktas 5-0 but Leeds finished second in Group H with 9 points. 

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Second Group Stage

Back in the days around the turn of the century, the last 16 format in the Champions League wasn’t a knockout round and it was known as the second group stage.

A draw was conducted to prepare four groups with four teams each, with each group consisting of two winners and two runners-up from the previous round.

Teams from the same country or from the same first-round group could not be drawn together and the top two teams from each group progressed to the quarter-finals.

Group A toppers Real Madrid, Group G winners Anderlecht and Group B runners-up Lazio were paired with Leeds United in the second group stage, draw which was expected to be extremely competitive.

As was the case in the first round, Leeds started off with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid at Elland Road, with goals from Fernando Hierro and Raul Gonzalez handing the Whites an early scare.

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They did, however, manage to get things back on track away from home against Lazio in their second game, as Alan Smith’s strike late in the fixture sealed three crucial points for David O’Leary side.

Leeds’ victory over the Lazio ensured that they went into the Christmas period with their European hopes still very much intact.

Following the winter break, Leeds played host to Anderlecht at Elland Road and the double-header against the Belgian giants was always going to go a long way towards deciding the Whites’ fortunes.

Leeds went a goal down, courtesy of Alin Stoica’s strike in the 65th-minute but they rallied on, and late goals from Bowyer and Harte sealed a remarkable 2-1 comeback victory to hand O’Leary’s side a massive boost heading into the reverse leg in Belgium.

The return leg in Belgium proved to be a rather one-sided encounter though, as Smith’s brace and goals from Viduka and Harte propelled Leeds to a comfortable 4-1 win, thus guaranteeing their progress to the quarter-finals.

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Leeds’ away fixture against Real Madrid early in March turned out to be an epic encounter, with both the sides going hammer and tongs at each other. Alan Smith’s 6th-minute opener was cancelled out by Raul’s goal in the very next minute before Luis Figo handed the Los Blancos a 2-1 lead going into the interval. 

Leeds found the equaliser through Mark Viduka’s strike in the second half but Raul’s 61st-minute winner proved to be the difference between the two sides as the game finished 3-2 in favour of the Spanish heavyweights.

The final game of the second group stage at Elland Road against Lazio proved to be an entertaining see-saw battle, although the game finished 3-3 and the teams shared the spoils.

Leeds finished as runners-up in Group D behind Real Madrid and booked their berth in the quarter-finals.

Quarter-finals

Leeds were paired to face Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna in the last-eight of the competition and the tie was expected to be anything but straightforward for the Yorkshire giants.

However, O’Leary’s men silenced their critics in the first leg at Elland Road, as Leeds romped home with an emphatic 3-0 scoreline and virtually sealed the tie in their favour heading into the second leg in Spain. 

Goals from Smith, Ferdinand and Harte handed the Whites a clear advantage but it proved to be a bit of an anti-climax in the reverse fixture away from home.

Having been completely outplayed by Leeds in the first game, Deportivo showed a lot more quality on their home turf and gave the Yorkshire outfit a big scare, as a penalty from Djalminha and a second-half goal from Diego Tristan handed the Spaniards a 2-0 victory.

Leeds failed to hit top gear in Spain but they progressed to the semi-finals with a 3-2 aggregate scoreline, nonetheless. 

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Semi-Finals

David O’Leary successfully guided Leeds United to their first European Cup semi-final since 1975 and the home tie against Valencia at Elland Road was always going to be a monumentous occasion for the fans.

However, Leeds never managed to score in the first leg at home, with them failing to convert several clear-cut chances in front of a raucous home crowd. The Whites left themselves with a lot of work to do in the away leg at Mestalla.

Given that the first leg had finished 0-0, Leeds knew that a 1-0 victory or even a 1-1 draw away from home would be enough to set up a final showdown with Bayern Munich. However, Valencia proved themselves to be a difficult opposition to overcome on their home turf and Leeds found themselves playing catch-up for the entire ninety minutes.

Juan Sanchez opened the scoring for Valencia in the 15th minute before the Spaniard netted his second of the night just after the interval to make it 2-0 in favour of the La Liga side. And Gaizka Mendieta’s strike just after a few minutes meant that Leeds had a mountain to climb. 

There was no fairytale comeback, however, from the Yorkshire giants and O’Leary’s side finally bowed out of the competition in the last four stage. Bayern Munich went on to register a penalty shootout victory over Valencia in the final and the Bavarian giants lifted the trophy at the San Siro.

Raul finished as the tournament’s top scorer with 7 goals, while Leeds duo Lee Bowyer and Alan Smith also found their names right up there with 6 and 5 goals respectively. The Whites failed to make it to the finals but their glorious run will always be a part of the history books at Elland Road. 

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Leeds Dragon

Despite tailing off since January, here’s how Bielsa can turn Leeds into a formidable force once again

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Leeds opinion: How Bielsa can improve the Whites after trailing off since January

Until last Christmas, Leeds United were one of the best teams in the Championship and were well on their way to at least finish second in the table.

However, things took a downward curve since the turn of this year and here we are now talking about them remaining in England’s second-tier for at least one more season.

While we will take an in-depth look as to why this drop in performance happened, it is worth noting that Leeds United hired Marcelo Bielsa to get them back into the Premier League and stay there for years to come.

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If the Whites are to keep the Argentine, the squad really needs to step up in the next 12 months and achieve the first target – promotion to the top-flight.

Now, let’s take a look at why there was a significant drop in their performances since the turn of the year and how Bielsa and co. can learn from that to improve next time around:

Injuries and high-intensity system

After his arrival last summer, the first few months of the Bielsa-era went smoothly, with the team playing an attractive brand of football and winning games in style.

But injuries to key players during the festive period started to take a toll on their performances, chiefly due to the fact that the Whites do not boast of a deep squad with high-quality players.

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Once a first-choice player of a particular position got injured, it was always a struggle for the manager to replace him. Either there was a drop in quality or the gaffer had to shoehorn someone in that slot.

Furthermore, Bielsa struggled to replace Samu Saiz with an attacking midfielder of similar quality. There were numerous players tried in the dual number 10 position but none of them took the opportunity by the scruff.

In Bielsa’s system, full-backs have to do a lot of running, which is unlike what other managers did at Elland Road. Thus, injuries/drop in performances due to fatigue was a natural phenomenon.

In fact, left-back Barry Douglas, who was signed from Wolves last summer, missed a huge chunk of the season while right-back Luke Ayling struggled for consistency.

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Due to a lack of proper backups in central defence, the manager had to field defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips in that position for quite a lot of games.

Thus, it has to be said that these things are not ideal to sustain the course of a 46-game season.

Now, the challenge for Bielsa is to get the players more attuned to playing his style of football for a longer period of time without fatigue and make intelligent signings to enhance the depth of the squad.

Once these two things happen to a certain extent, we can say that Leeds would have a great chance to go all the way next season.

Conclusion

It is fairly evident as to where Leeds and Bielsa have to improve if they are to get promoted to the Premier League.

The upcoming pre-season is very important for this team and the manager, as they should look to build on from the disappointments of last season rather than going into the shell.

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Dragon Feeds

Forget Murphy and Montero – Here’s why West Brom should not pass up the chance to sign this £3m-rated ace

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West Brom Opinion: Beating Leeds to the signature of Jamal Lowe could help the Baggies

According to the Daily Star, West Brom are interested in securing the services of Portsmouth winger Jamal Lowe, with reports claiming that Leeds United and Middlesbrough are also plotting a swoop for the 24-year-old star.

Lowe, though, has more suitors in the Championship, with Sky Sports claiming that Wigan Athletic, as well as newly-relegated Cardiff City, are also keen to bring the winger to the second-tier this summer.

However, Portsmouth are prepared to play hardball with any potential suitor for their star attacker, and according to claims from London News Online, the League One outfit have slapped a £3 million price tag on the 24-year-old.

Lowe made eyeballs turn with his consistently impressive displays in the third-tier this past season, as the 24-year-old former non-league star racked up a staggering 15 goals and 9 assists in 45 League One appearances to help Portsmouth to a fourth-place finish.

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Kenny Jackett’s side lost out to Sunderland in the playoff semi-finals and missed the chance to secure promotion to the Championship but Lowe might get an opportunity to test his credentials at a higher level next term, with so many Championship clubs interested in the prolific winger.

The 24-year-old Harrow-born attacker played for a host of non-league sides, including Hayes and Yeading United, Boreham Wood, Hitchin Town, St. Albans City, Farnborough, Hemel Hempstead Town and Hampton & Richmond Borough before joining Portsmouth in League Two back in the summer of 2016.

Lowe helped Portsmouth secure promotion to League One in his very first season and has shown strong signs of promise in the third-tier ever since the start of the 2017-18 campaign.

Well, there might be a lot of difference between League One and the Championship, both in terms of quality and intensity, but Lowe’s exploits for Portsmouth last term certainly deserves a lot of credit.

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Fifteen goals and nine assists is quite a remarkable tally for a wide player, and at 24, the time might just be right for him to take the next big step in his career, given that he has already proven himself to be head and shoulders above League One standards.

To put things into perspective, Jamal Lowe could be an exciting signing for both the promotion hopefuls and the price tag should not be a big issue for either of the aforementioned clubs.

While Leeds should look at him as a replacement for the likes of departing loanees Jack Harrison and Izzy Brown, Lowe’s arrival would add a lot of pace, creativity and firepower to West Brom’s attack.

Keeping that in mind, West Brom should look to get one over their promotion rivals and beat off competition from Leeds United in the race to sign the highly-rated Portsmouth winger.

The Baggies need to show a lot of ambition in the transfer market following the appointment of Slaven Bilic as the permanent manager and Lowe might prove to be a handy signing for the Midlands outfit.

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West Brom are currently short of cover in their attacking options following the return of loanees Dwight Gayle, Jacob Murphy and Jefferson Montero to Newcastle United and Swansea City respectively.

Jay Rodriguez has been heavily linked with a return to the Premier League this summer, whilst Salomon Rondon is unlikely to return to the Hawthorns to play in the Championship.

To Read More West Brom News, Click Here:- Latest West Brom news

While a proven and tested attacker certainly fits the bill better, bringing in Lowe could help West Brom cope with the departure of Murphy and Montero.

The 24-year-old’s pace and trickery would bring that X-factor and unpredictability to the Baggies attack, while also adding to squad depth and increasing competition for places. That said, West Brom should go all out in their pursuit of the prolific League One star this summer.

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