Marcelo Bielsa says Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough are the most physically imposing side his Leeds United team have faced this season.
Boro host Leeds for a 1pm kickoff this Saturday with the home team hoping to narrow the gap to the visitors down to four points with a win.
United sit joint-top of the Championship following their 3-0 loss to fellow title contenders Norwich City, and another loss could allow their other promotion rivals to gain ground on them.
Avoiding defeat will not be an easy task for Leeds, according to their manager, who acknowledged the challenge that their opponent’s brute strength poses, before admitting they deserved to lose the initial encounter between the two sides.
“If I had to choose which was the hardest game we’ve played so far, with frictions and the one that presented the most physical challenges — I would say it was the game against Middlesbrough and it will be the challenge in the coming game,” Bielsa told the press ahead of the game.
“We were not surprised by the way Middlesbrough played in the first game, we knew they were going to play this type of game and in the duel of styles, Middlesbrough won, because they didn’t play better than us or have the ball, but they had more chances to score than us.
“They prevented us from playing and being faithful to their method and were able to create chances to score against us.
“It was one of the few games this season that we deserved to lose, but we managed to draw.”
Bielsa does have some team selection issues ahead of Saturday, with Pablo Hernandez, Adam Forshaw and Mateusz Klich all struggling with injuries.
Having listened back, this – I think – is what Bielsa was saying about his team for Boro:
Definite starters: Casilla, Ayling, Jansson, Cooper, Alioski, Roofe, Harrison and Bamford.
Then, due to injury doubts: Forshaw or Phillips, Hernandez or Clarke, Klich or Shackleton.
— Phil Hay (@PhilHay_) February 7, 2019
“Adam and Mateusz have a problem in the knee and Pablo has a problem with his groin, so we are not sure if they are going to play or not,” the Leeds manager said.
“They are not serious injuries because they have the possibility to play and I never put a player who is in doubt on the pitch.
“I never push a player to play, I only put a player in the team if he is 100 per cent available to play.”