Watford in tight relegation battle

Watford dropped a place to 19th after Burnley’s 3-2 win over Everton on Wednesday night, but that result was probably to their advantage as it kept the positions tight at the bottom.

With 22 points, Roy Hodgson’s side remain three behind Everton in 17th, while Burnley are now 18th on 24 points. Watford, however, have played a game more than those two rivals.

Hodgson has no fresh injury concerns and could make just one change from last week’s starting line-up in the defeat at Liverpool, with Emmanuel Dennis set to replace Joao Pedro in attack.

Key players back for Leeds

Leeds have climbed to a safer position in recent weeks under new manager Jesse Marsch, although they are not out of the woods yet.

Marsch’s side have taken seven points from their last three games, beating Norwich 2-1 at home and Wolves 3-2 away with stoppage-time goals before a home 1-1 with Southampton.

Leeds are 16th on 30 points, which puts them six clear of the relegation zone, but every team below them has at least one game in hand.

Marsch has key players back for the run-in. Liam Cooper returned at the heart of defence for the full match against Southampton and Kalvin Phillips, likewise absent since December 5, came off the bench. The England midfielder is expected to start this time.

Patrick Bamford, Jamie Shackleton and Tyler Roberts are sidelined, but defender Junior Firpo may be available for selection.

Watford gave themselves a fighting chance with a 2-1 win at Southampton in their last match before the international break and put up a decent showing on their return with a 2-0 defeat at title-chasing Liverpool.

The Southampton win was only their second since late November (the other was a 1-0 at Aston Villa in mid-February) and they remain more miss than hit.

Watford’s record under Hodgson is W2 D2 L6, although a mitigating factor is that five of those 10 games have been against teams in the top eight. Their form figures against the rest under Hodgson is a respectable W2 D1 L2 and that is probably a more accurate guide to their chance here.

The Hornets need to stop a run of eight consecutive home defeats, however, which goes back to their 4-1 win over Manchester United in November. That victory perhaps said more about a United side on the verge of parting company with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but it also demonstrated Watford’s attacking prowess when everything clicks.

That was evident again in the win at Southampton and also in flashes against Liverpool, but they will need to show that on a more consistent basis to avoid the drop.

Leeds’ recent recovery followed a run of six consecutive defeats, which included Marsch’s first two matches after replacing Marcelo Bielsa.

To his credit, Marsch has managed to dispel the gloom of Bielsa’s last days and Leeds are showing more of the style and fighting spirit that characterised their rise under the mercurial Argentinian.

Their away form is not great, however, and their win on the road under Marsch had an element of luck when Wolves striker Raul Jimenez was sent off in the second half with the hosts 2-0 up.

Leeds have won only two other away games this season (2-1 at Norwich and 3-2 at West Ham) and punters have to judge whether Marsch’s turnaround is solid enough to improve that record.

There is more substance to the Leeds case in a match where the market can hardly split the teams, with Marsch’s side slight favourites at 2.6813/8.

The selection is Leeds on draw no bet at 1.9520/21.

Hodgson is having some success at turning Watford into a more solid defensive unit, which has long been the basis for his teams, and six of his 10 games have had under 2.5 goals.

Some high scores have been mixed in too, with heavy defeats against Crystal Palace (4-1), Arsenal (3-2) and Wolves (4-0), and Leeds carry a big threat to the home defence based on their recent results.

Watford need to go for three points and, while Hodgson my well try to achieve that with a tight 1-0, the game has the potential to open up at some stage.

Both teams to score is worth considering at 1.684/6. That has occurred in eight of Watford’s 14 home games and nine of Leeds’ 15 on the road.

Opta Stat

Since returning to the Premier League last season, Leeds United have picked up 22 points in their eight Premier League matches against promoted clubs (W7 D1), with their 2.75 points per game average the highest of any side in such matches in that time. They are also the only Premier League team not to lose a single game against a promoted side since the start of last season. Leeds are 2.6813/8 to win.

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