2 games in, 2 points earned. In what many would call a "solid" start to the season, Leeds have scored 1, conceded 1, drawn 2 and lost 0. Not bad. Not as good as some would feel it could have been - Sunday's trip to a Reading side notorious for struggling at home presented a chance for 3 points - but given the circumstances of a heavily altered schedule and Lewis Cook's suspension, heading to Bristol without a league defeat and a (mostly) full strength squad can be considered a success.
City themselves have had a less-than promising start to the season, as they look to build on a hugely impressive League 1 display in 2014/15. Bristol, frankly, decimated the competition in a hugely competitive league, losing only 5 times throughout the campaign, picking up the Football League Trophy along the way. Their early-season form was driven in part by former Leeds-man Matt Smith, on loan from Fulham. Smith hit 13 goals in 21 appearances altogether, including 7 in the league as Bristol went 16 games unbeaten from the season opener. By the end of the season, 17 players had scored at least one league goal for City, Aaron Wilbraham, Kieran Agard, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Aden Flint all chipping in with double-figured seasons.
The Championship, however, has proven tough for Steve Cotterill's men, losing their first two games to Sheffield Wednesday (2-0) and Brentford (4-2), although anyone who saw the latter game would agree that they were unlucky to lose, especially by such a misleading scoreline. Cotterill will be looking for his team to bounce back, and will look at Leeds as a meaningful scalp. The Whites haven't lost at Ashton Gate in the last 5 visits, and have beaten Bristol 6 times in a row in recent years. The City boss could win some huge favor with the fans (and board) if he can buck the trend, although the recent stories linking the club with a £9 million move for Brentford's Andre Gray seem to suggest that the board is firmly behind their man, regardless of tonight's result.
Leeds will once again be without talismanic midfielder Lewis Cook, who is still sidelined after getting a bit carried away on Thursday night, but his absence could allow Luke Murphy back into the starting XI after making a short return to league action in Sunday's game at Reading. Murphy replaced the impressive Kalvin Phillips with around 20 minutes to go, and it appears that he will get the nod ahead of the youngster tonight. Rosler has been openly vocal about his regard for Murphy, looking to him as the fulcrum on which his preferred style of fast-transition football can be supported.
Last week's exertion could also see Alex Mowatt given a rest before Saturday's game against
Sheffield Wednesday. Mowatt looked understandably jaded towards the end of Sunday's game, and could probably do with a rest after a tough start to the season, although replacing his versatility in the middle of the park will be tough. Rosler may decide to keep Kalvin Phillips in the midfield trio, allowing him the attacking freedom usually reserved for Mowatt. We know Phillips can score given the chance, and his distribution of the ball could serve the front three of Dallas, Wood and Byram perfectly.
The only other selection issue facing Rosler will be in the centre of defence, as he decides who should partner Sol Bamba. Liam Cooper was lauded for his performance on Sunday, but was a surprise inclusion after the early-season form of Giuseppe Bellusci. Rosler explained that Cooper was chosen over Bellusci as he had recovered from the Doncaster game faster than the Italian, but whether his performance against Reading is enough to cement his place in the starting XI is yet to be seen.
Bristol will be without midfielder Luke Freeman (suspended) and goalkeeper Frank Fielding (injured), but will still be a tough test for Leeds tonight, especially given the away side's track record in midweek games. Both sides are looking to really kick start their season ahead of tough fixtures this weekend - Leeds host Sheffield Wednesday, Bristol head to Middlesbrough - and both will see this as a winnable game. It's crucial that Leeds take control of the game in the middle of the park, and use the pace of the game to their advantage, especially if Luke Murphy returns to the side. Murphy's ability to dictate play, along with Adeyemi's defensive qualities and the attacking drive of Mowatt/Phillips could make all the difference in a team lacking in confidence going forward. Getting the ball to Chris Wood's feet is imperative, as Leeds won't be causing the imposing defensive partnership of Aden Flint and Luke Ayling any problems in the air.
My prediction: 2-2. Another draw I'm afraid, but hopefully because Rosler looks to implement a more attacking approach tonight. If the defence proves as solid as they looked on Sunday (bar Bamba's close call in the opening minutes) then the away side might just nick it.
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