Stoke City have had a horrid season.
Ahead of their clash against Leeds United at Elland Road tonight (Thursday), the Potters are hovering just above the relegation zone, one point clear of Hull City in 22nd.
It is possibly the worst possible time for Stoke to play against Leeds, who will be going all out for victory after seeing both Brentford and West Brom win to pile more pressure on them in the race for automatic promotion.
All the form books point to Leeds running out as comfortable winners but that does not mean that Michael O’Neill has players who the Whites should be wary of.
One of the players who could cause Leeds issues on Thursday is winger James McClean, who has arguably been the Potters’ best player this season.
The 31-year-old has scored six goals and supplied six assists in 31 Championship appearances, meaning he has been directly involved in more league games than Helder Costa has done this term at Leeds.
McClean has pace, desire and the ability to cross the ball into the box from deep, which could be problematic for a Leeds side that loves to push their full-backs forward.
McClean will most likely come up against right-back Luke Ayling on Thursday.
Ayling is perhaps the most attack-minded right-back in the Championship with the Leeds star’s heatmap [WyScout] showing how advanced he’s played in the league this term.
McClean is the kind of pacey winger who can expose Ayling’s tendency to push forward.
The former West Brom winger doesn’t use just his pace to expose attack-minded full-backs but he also uses his ability to cross from deep.
In the below image, McClean whips in a cross from distance to find Tyrese Campbell making a run into the penalty box.
Unfortunately for McClean and Stoke, Campbell’s headed effort at goal was awful but McClean’s crossing ability in that match will have surely caught the eye of Marcelo Bielsa when he comes to planning his tactics on Thursday.
Stats by WyScout continue to show how much a threat McClean can pose.
The Republic of Ireland has averaged 6.72 crosses per 90 minutes of Championship football this season, completing 32.5 per cent of his balls into the box.
In comparison, Leeds’ Jack Harrison has a cross accuracy of 28.5 per cent and Costa’s is 28.5 per cent, making him comfortable more accurate than Leeds’ main wingers.
Still, Stoke are not a team that should strike fear into Leeds but Bielsa needs to make plans to counter whatever the Potters can throw their way.
We might see Ayling play slightly deeper than usual to nullify McClean’s threat but that might mean the left-hand side of the Whites’ formation gets more joy.
In other Leeds United news, Leeds want to wrap up two signings in the coming weeks.