Sheffield Wednesday head into their clash with Leeds United on the weekend knowing that a win would see them overtake their Yorkshire rivals in the table.
It is a testament to Garry Monk’s excellent start and how tight it is at top of the Championship that a victory could see them finish the weekend top of the table, as long as West Bromwich Albion lose to Charlton Athletic.
Monk took over in September and under his stewardship the Owls have picked up 14 points from their last seven games, climbing to third in the table.
What will the result be at Hillsborough on Saturday?
There have been a number of impressive performers but one that has pushed himself to the fore in recent weeks is Massimo Luongo.
The midfielder joined the club in the summer but has just begun to cement a place in the first team.
The Australian has started Wednesday’s last three games, twice scoring the winner, and could be key to helping Monk’s side overcome the Whites on Saturday.
We put a spotlight on his performance against the Potters to examine why he could be integral for the Owls at Hillsborough.
Tuesday night’s 1-0 win against Stoke was just Luongo’s eighth Championship appearance of the season and only his third start.
The majority of those have come as part of a central midfield duo alongside Barry Bannan, with a defensive midfielder sitting deeper.
That allows the Australian the freedom to be tenacious both in attack and defence, which is something he showed in his performance on Tuesday night.
The 27-year-old proved to be the difference against Nathan Jones’ side when he hungrily chased down a flick-on from Steven Fletcher and forced a mistake from Liam Lindsay before sliding the ball past Adam Federici.
He showed a willingness the whole time he was on the pitch to burst forward and get into the penalty area, taking two touches in the opposition box, and provide support for Fletcher–important in the 4-1-4-1 that Wednesday play.
Those sort of incisive runs could be vital against Leeds, who have been excellent defensively this season but could be once again forced to be creative in central midfield with Adam Forshaw out.
Wednesday are going to have to be dynamic in the final third if they’re to get at this Whites defence, who have conceded the least goals in the Championship this season.
Without the ball, Luongo was fantastic at Hillsborough in midweek–winning 70% of his 10 defensive duels and recovering the ball in the opposition half four times.
Luongo’s defensive capabilities could be vital against Leeds, as Bielsa’s side are likely to be in the ascendancy for large spells.
His tenacity at turning the ball over in the opposition half may be particularly useful as the Whites love to build from the back and opportunities could arise if he is able to win the ball back up the pitch.
Leeds have averaged 59.9% possession this season, so Wednesday are going to need to look after the ball when they have it and Luongo showed his excellence in this department against Stoke–finishing with 92% pass accuracy.
The 27-year-old has added a real energy to Monk’s midfield but it’s the balance to his game that may prove most useful against Leeds. Defensively you can trust he will be solid and put a real shift in, while he has shown in recent weeks just how lethal he can be in close games and the visit of Leeds on Saturday looks to be exactly that.
It is a second v third tie that brings together two sides just one point apart and a win for Monk’s men would make a huge statement moving forward.