Leeds and West Ham kick off this week’s Premier League action in what should be an incredibly intriguing encounter at Elland Road.
While Marcelo Bielsa’s side are all about pressing high and taking the game to the opposition, the Hammers’ best moments this season have come when David Moyes has instructed them to sit deep, soak up pressure and hit opponents on the counter-attack.
Also separated by just three points in the Premier League table, a win for either side on Friday could have a significant say on the mentality they’ll take into the ever-chaotic Christmas period.
But which side boasts the better quality going into the encounter, and who could therefore come out on top? Perhaps GIVEMESPORT’s combined XI can provide an answer to that question…
Goalkeeper: Illan Meslier’s improving by the game and at 20 years old, Leeds’ young goalkeeper clearly has a bright future ahead of him. But West Ham’s Lukasz Fabianski is well-established as one of the best goalkeepers outside the Premier League’s Big Six and 2020/21 has been another solid season for him with just 14 goals conceded and four clean sheets kept in 11 games. Accordingly, the Poland international gets the nod from us.
Right-Back: Luke Ayling’s dynamism is a crucial cog of the way Leeds play and the 29-year-old has stepped up to Premier League level with as much confidence as anybody who spent last season in the second tier. But in Vladimir Coufal, the Hammers have landed one of the most underrated signings of the summer - the 28-year-old is yet to put a foot wrong in a West Ham jersey, while producing impressive averages of 2.5 tackles, 1.4 interceptions and 0.9 key passes per match.
Right Centre-Back: With West Ham employing a back three this season there are plenty of centre-back options to choose from. But rather than Fabian Balbuena or Angelo Ogbonna, we’ve decided to shift left-footer Liam Cooper over to the right. The Scotland international is an action-packed centre-half with interceptions, tackles, clearances and aerials won aplenty this season, while he offers our combined XI a sense of leadership as the Yorkshire outfit’s captain.
Left Centre-Back: A big part of the reason we’ve moved Cooper over to the right is so that we can facilitate Aaron Cresswell. That might seem a like we’re placing too much importance on the West Ham man but he’s enjoying a fine campaign as the left-sided member of the Irons’ back three - a role that simplifies his defensive duties while giving him the time on the ball to show his quality. Cresswell boasts three assists this season and Mateusz Klich and Jack Harrison are the only players on either team to have averaged more than his 1.8 key passes per match (excluding Ryan Fredericks, who has only made three appearances).
Left-Back: With Leeds’ left-back berth being divvied up between Stuart Dallas and Ezgjan Alioski this season, the No.3 slot in our combined XI was a pretty straight-forward choice. He’s no doubt far more effective when deployed as a wing-back but nonetheless, Arthur Masuaku is always an exciting player to watch, even if it's sometimes for the wrong reasons. An average of 2.2 dribbles per match is unrivalled throughout both teams and highlights the explosivity the Congo international offers this combined XI.
Right Defensive Midfield: It’s easy to forget Declan Rice is just 21 years of age such is the maturity of his performances at times. Albeit deployed as more of a box-to-box in West Ham’s 5-4-1 setup, the England international is enjoying another fine season and ranks first throughout the Irons’ squad for interceptions and passes per match as well as third for dribbles, which precisely highlights what he offers them in midfield.
Left Defensive Midfield: Could this be England’s partnership at Euro 2021? Kalvin Phillips seems to have a fan in Gareth Southgate and he’s got us convinced too. The Yorkshire Pirlo has taken well to the Premier League despite often receiving copious attention from the opposition and his ability to jink his way out of trouble before launching searing long passes is a key feature of Leeds’ play. With 3.3 tackles per game to boot, the 25-year-old helps form an incredibly solid engine room alongside Rice.
Central Midfield: Perhaps our biggest regret in this starting XI is leaving out Tomas Soucek, who’s quickly establishing himself as one of the Premier League’s deadliest threats in the air. In fact, he’s won the second-most headers of any player in the division and showed his prowess only last weekend by netting from a set piece against Manchester United. But with Phillips and Rice anchoring the midfield, we needed someone a little more creative operating in front of them. While Pablo Fornals deserves a shout for his occasional flutters of brilliance, we’ve gone with Klich. Leeds’ roaming No.8 links the midfield to the attack and as well as scoring twice this term has laid on three assists while averaging the second-most key passes of any player on either team.
Right Wing: Leeds’ right wing berth is still an ongoing battle between Helder Costa and Raphinha - albeit with the latter seemingly destined to come out on top - but Jarrod Bowen’s had it locked down at the London Stadium this term. The former Hull City man is a real scrapper out wide and matches that industry with a healthy supply of goal involvements; last term it was one goal and four assists for the Hammers, this time out it’s four strikes and one setup.
Left Wing: Fornals deserves an honourable mention once again but despite a return of two goals and two assists this season, he’s still got a knack of drifting in and out of games. Leeds’ Jack Harrison, on the other hand, is never too far away from the action. He’s produced the most key passes of any player on either team and boasts four goal involvements in ten starts. 1.9 tackles per match certainly isn’t to be sniffed at for a winger either.
Striker: Such is his ability to put whole defences under pressure single-handed, if Michail Antonio could stay fit the West Ham forward would certainly be leading the line for our combined XI. Sadly though, injuries have limited him to just seven starts this season and with that in mind, we can’t overlook Leeds’ Patrick Bamford. Despite looking rather unspectacular in the Championship last term, the 27-year-old has risen to the challenge of Premier League football with aplomb - just four players have bettered his return of eight goals in the top flight this term, and he’s also pitched in with one assist.News Now - Sport News