Preston North End manager Alex Neil is expecting another tactical battle when his side go head to head with Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United on Boxing Day.
His side were close to coming out on top in that battle at Deepdale earlier this season, only for the visitors to grab a late equaliser, however, he admits that last season it was the West Yorkshire outfit who were the better side.
“The last time we were there, last year, we were poor and we really struggled – they beat us comfortably and it is one of the most difficult venues in the league to go to,” the gaffer told iFollow PNE.
“The fans really get behind them, the atmosphere is excellent and their team is a really good team.
“We know it is going to be a tough game, but, like we showed at home, we can certainly get results and we can cause them a few problems.
“There are two things in any game – how you try and stop the opposition and how you try and build yourself. Against Leeds, at Deepdale, we focused on how we were going to stop them more than how we were going to build and any good coach, where a dilemma comes up in a game and you don’t maybe find a solution within the game, it is certainly something you would look back on and come up with an alternative of how you are going to deal with that.
“We will be prepared for that, but regardless of how we approach it, it is going to be a tough game. They are a good team, but as we have shown against the top teams, we only lost to West Brom with a poor decision at the end, we beat Fulham and drew with Leeds and could have won that one as well.
“We have given a good account of ourselves against the teams at the top end of the table and this will be another one where we want to go and perform as well as we can.”
Those tactical battles must be made without Daniel Johnson, the midfielder again ruled out, something the PNE boss believes is a blow, but he is expecting holding midfielders Kalvin Phillips and Ben Pearson to play a big role in the game.
“DJ is a big blow for us in this one,” he continued. “What you need with Leeds is three things – you need tactical awareness, you need legs and the ability to take the ball, handle it under pressure and shift it, because they will go man for man all over the pitch.
“You need to be able to do all three things and DJ is one of the players who gives us all of that, so it is a big, big blow that he is missing for this one for us.
“Both teams play through their No.6, who is relied upon to break up the game and be that extra link and their positions are pivotal to that sort of system and Kalvin Phillips has come on leaps and bounds since Marcelo Bielsa has come in and Ben [Pearson] has got better and better for us over the last few years and it will be really interesting to see how both of them play.”
With a sell out Elland Road, festive Boxing Day football and the Sky Sports cameras in town, it is certainly something Alex and his side are relishing.
“It is going to be a great game. We are just really hopeful that we do better than we did there the last time and there is no reason that we can’t, so it should be a good match,” he added.