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Everton at Leeds United: The Opposition View

We spoke to Leeds fan and writer Jack Robshaw prior to Wednesday’s clash at Elland Road

Leeds won November’s reverse fixture 1-0
Photo by JON SUPER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Everton will look to make amends for Saturday’s awful defeat to Newcastle when they travel to Leeds United on Wednesday.

The Blues sit eighth after 19 league games, the midpoint of their season, but could end this midweek round of fixtures as high as fifth.

And they will want revenge after Marcelo Bielsa’s men won 1-0 in November’s reverse fixture at Goodison Park thanks to a late stunner from Raphinha.

Leeds secured an impressive 3-1 win at Leicester on Sunday and look on course to survive in their first season back in the top-flight; they currently occupy 12th place, 15 points clear of the drop.

Ahead of Wednesday’s game, we spoke to Jack Robshaw, writer for SB Nation’s dedicated Leeds site, Through It All Together:

RBM: Firstly, with safety all-but secured already, have you been surprised by how comfortably Leeds have taken to life back in the Premier League?

Jack: As a Leeds fan I have been burned before so I’m not going to say it is ‘all-but assured’ for purely superstitious reasons.

I think we have done as well as we could have expected to do. While most Leeds fans’ said ‘17th or better’ is a good season, most of us thought we would be able to stay up without too much drama.

I think the way that Leeds performed against Arsenal in the FA Cup last season made us think that Marcelo Bielsa’s style of football would work in the Premier League and when we have played well that has been the case. We have been a bit more comfortable than I personally expected, but with so long left to go I’m not getting ahead of myself.

Leeds secured an impressive 3-1 win at Leicester on Sunday
Photo by RUI VIEIRA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

RBM: How surprised have you also been by Patrick Bamford, who perhaps wasn’t always seen as the most prolific of strikers but already has 11 goals this term?

Jack: His finishing has improved a lot this season. He was always a better finisher when the ball was played in front of him, rather than pulled back to him, and we are creating more of that sort of opening this season because teams aren’t sat as deep in the Premier League.

He is much more confident and his all-round game is benefitting from that confidence - his performance against Leicester on Sunday was one of his best in a Leeds shirt.

RBM: Leeds didn’t strengthen at all in the January transfer window. Were you disappointed by this?

Jack: No. January signings under Bielsa generally don’t work. It takes a new signing weeks to get up to the required fitness level to play our style of football.

Adding to this how expensive players are in January and the paucity of players who are actually available and I don’t think any Leeds fans expected big moves.

Tottenham Hotspur v Leeds United - Premier League
Bielsa made no January signings
Photo by Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

RBM: Beyond this season, what is a realistic aim for Leeds under Marcelo Bielsa?

Jack: You can never be certain he will stay beyond this season, but I think he will. If he does, it is just a matter of ‘keep improving’.

We won’t be in a position to push for the top without having a ridiculous Leicester-style season. We just need to establish ourselves as a Premier League club for the next couple of years, try and finish top-half - sneaking into the Europa League would be nice but I wouldn’t expect it.

If we do that, we can then probably expand the stadium, the extra income from that might allow us to push on a bit more. By then, we are likely looking at whoever follows Bielsa.

RBM: Leeds were really impressive at Goodison in November, pressing high and getting in Everton’s faces right from the start. Can we expect more of the same on Wednesday?

Jack: We always play the same way, but we don’t always play as well as we did at Goodison. The idea will certainly be the same.

We have a few injury doubts. Rodrigo will miss the game, Bamford and Raphinha both have knocks. If they’re all missing, it could be a much tougher task than earlier in the season.

Everton v Leeds United - Premier League
Leeds were excellent at Goodison in November
Photo by Peter Powell - Pool/Getty Images

RBM: Since conceding six at Man Utd in December, Leeds have kept two clean sheets and only let in two or more goals in one of their six league games since. What defensive improvements have they made lately?

Jack: We have made some improvements defending set-pieces, but we’re still not particularly good at it. Both of the international centre-backs we bought in the summer are out injured so that is still an issue.

Pascal Struijk’s performances since stepping up from the under-23s have certainly helped. We haven’t really changed much; we just haven’t had as much of an off day as we did at Old Trafford.

RBM: How do you expect Leeds to set up on Wednesday?

Jack: The formation is entirely dependent on Everton. If you play with Dominic Calvert-Lewin as a lone striker, Leeds will play in their usual 4-1-4-1. If you switch to two strikers, we’ll play 3-3-1-3. Either way, we will man-mark all over the pitch and press everywhere, try and win the ball high up the pitch, or counter quickly if we can’t.

If you want a line-up, hoping Bamford and Raphinha are fit: (4-1-4-1) Meslier; Ayling, Struijk, Cooper, Alioski; Phillips; Raphinha, Klich, Dallas, Harrison; Bamford.

Everton v Leeds United - Premier League
Raphinha scored the winner in November’s reverse fixture
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Jack: If fit, Raphinha looks like an absolute world beater. He’s caused issues for every left-back he’s faced. Kalvin Phillips’ range of passing from deep could be a problem; if he is up against James Rodriguez, I’m not sure Rodriguez will run him hard enough to disrupt that (although he has all the quality in the world when Everton have the ball).

In his current form, I’d back Bamford to cause your centre-backs issues. The other way around, I think you can get at Ezgjan Alioski down our left-hand side if you use the ball well.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Wednesday’s game?

Jack: Tough game; Everton’s poor performance against Newcastle has ended up making us favourites with the bookies but I think that is an overreaction. 2-2.

Our thanks to Jack for his time.