After sweeping aside Southampton 3-0 last time out, Leeds United welcome fellow Premier League surprise packages Aston Villa on late Saturday afternoon.
Both clubs have really turned on the style this season, with Villa still very much in the hunt for a shock European place for next year. Dean Smith’s side find themselves just nine points behind fourth-placed West Ham, but with two games in hand on the Hammers.
Leeds could be set for a pre-match boost with Jack Grealish potentially missing from action again after picking up an injury last week, but while Villa’s talisman may be ruled out, Marcelo Bielsa must instead beware Ollie Watkins.
The summer signing from Brentford has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water, scoring ten goals and providing a further two assists in 23 top-flight games.
And, speaking after he scored the winning goal against Arsenal earlier this year, his manager Smith said: “‘I think every week we’re speaking very well of his performance, and that’s what he brings to the team.
“He’s selfless in terms of what his work-rate is. He’s such a good footballer but a good team-mate as well. It’s no surprise to me he has got into double figures already in the Premier League.”
Watkins isn’t just a prolific goal-scorer who does his best work inside the box. The £27m-rated star runs hard into the channels, dragging opposition centre-backs this way and that, and isn’t someone who Leeds’ defenders will find easy to hold off – he wins a mammoth 7.4 duels per game, which for context, is more than double that of Patrick Bamford (3.1).
Brentford’s programme editor, Chris Deacon, told The Athletic: “Ollie transformed himself into a physical specimen. We’d call him a machine because it looked like he would set himself into third gear and then cruise along at the front while everyone else was blowing.”
The pace and power that Wakins has is a major threat to Bielsa and Leeds, who always look to press high and can leave gaps in behind. The Villa front-man’s movement and work-rate as Smith talked up could prove to be a thorn for the Whites’ back-line, especially if they’re intent on trying to play out from the back – you only have to look at Illan Meslier being caught out by Bukayo Saka against Arsenal just recently to see that.
So while Grealish being out may be a massive relief for Leeds, Watkins is the man that Bielsa must beware.