The year is 1970. Location: Old Trafford, Manchester. There’s a football match going on however, you’d be forgiven if you thought you were watching a game of rugby instead of an FA Cup final between two of the top teams in the English First Division. An iconic game that saw Chelsea beat Leeds United in a notoriously feisty clash and lift their first ever FA Cup trophy. A vintage rivalry was born that day. A rivalry that only grew in stature over the course of next few decades before eventually dying down after the Whites’ relegation from the now-rebranded Premier League.
With Leeds United now back among the big boys of English football, the long-lost rivalry looks set to be reborn, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Only this time, there’s another twist in the tale. Switch to January 2019. Leeds United and manager, Marcelo Bielsa, are caught up in a bizarre “spygate” controversy when Derby County accused the Yorkshire club of spying on their training ground ahead of a Championship game between the two clubs. Another rivalry was brewing behind the scenes as Derby County, then managed by the current Chelsea boss, later denied Leeds United a much coveted spot in the Championship playoffs for the 2018-19 season, sparking fury among the Leeds fans with the Rams’ post-match celebrations.
This Saturday, the two giants of English football lock horns again. Although this time, it’s not just Chelsea vs Leeds United. It is Frank Lampard vs Marcelo Bielsa. A vintage rivalry with a modern twist. Let’s have a look at how the two sides are shaping up ahead of Saturday’s big game.
CHELSEA (Last 5 games: DWWWD): The Londoners are in a rich vein of form, unbeaten in their last 12 games in all competitions, losing only once in normal time all season, against champions Liverpool, and coming fresh from a resounding 4-0 win away from home against the Europa League Champions, Sevilla, in the Champions League. The Blues are firing on all cylinders in attack and are the joint-highest goal scorers in the division (22) and have conceded the second-least amount of goals (10), remarkably putting out the fires in defence that once haunted them ever so frequently. The new signings are settling in nicely and things are looking fairly rosy for Frank Lampard’s men, although they did drop 2 points against Jose Mourinho’s Spurs in their last Premier League game that ended in a 0-0 draw.
LEEDS UNITED (Last 5 games: WDLLW): Leeds United have enjoyed a mixed start to their life back in the big time. There have been positive results against the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal but there, also, have been a few extremely disappointing games against Leicester City and Crystal Palace. Things are getting back on track, though, for Bielsa’s men as they look to build on their 1-0 win over Everton, at Goodison Park, last time out.
Lampard will be delighted with the fact that he has the full squad available to choose from. Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz, coming back from injury and illness respectively, got valuable minutes under their belt against Sevilla in the Champions League and Olivier Giroud’s heroics means Lampard has a real selection headache ahead of him, albeit a positive one at that.
Leeds United have Diego Llorente back available following a groin injury. However, the Spain international is unlikely to feature, with Bielsa hinting that he would play for the Under-23s before he makes his first-team bow. Pablo Hernandez and Jamie Shackleton are also on their way back into the squad and could turn out for the Under-23s before returning to Bielsa’s side, while Adam Forshaw remains side-lined. Leeds fans, however, will be happiest with the news that Jack Harrison is in contention to start again after overcoming a minor leg problem.
TIMO WERNER vs LUKE AYLING
Given Giroud and Abraham’s brilliant run of form of late and Pulisic’s injury concerns, you’d expect Werner to start on the left flank on Saturday and that makes for a very interesting matchup against Luke Ayling. The English fullback loves to bomb forward at every given opportunity to join the attack. However, that creates a huge risk of leaving space in behind for Werner to have a free run at and, given the German’s devastating pace, there’s only one winner in such a scenario. Werner has missed a couple of gilt edged chances in the last few games and would be relishing the opportunity to put a vulnerable Leeds defence to the sword.
N’GOLO KANTE vs KALVIN PHILLIPS
A highly talented, up and coming defensive midfielder versus a seasoned, world class player. Kalvin Philipps is the lynchpin of Leeds’ midfield, helping break up opposition attacks and switching play at will with his impressive passing range. Almost everything good Leeds do, comes through him. So how will he, then, cope playing against one of the best in the business in N’Golo Kante? It’s an intriguing midfield battle and it surely will be intense, given the speed with which both the teams like to move the ball in possession and press their counterparts off it.
REECE JAMES vs JACK HARRISON
Reece James has, arguably, been the best right-back in the league this season. The Englishman has been excellent in attack, forming a devastating partnership with Hakim Ziyech, and is an extremely strong physical presence in defence. His defending skills, however, will be put to test against Manchester City loanee, Jack Harrison, who is Leeds United’s most creative player, leading the way with 4 big chances created, 1.6 successful dribbles per match and 3 assists (tied with Mateusz Klich). It promises to be an excellent battle between two exciting Premier League talents.
CHELSEA: Mendy; James, Zouma, Silva, Chilwell; Kante, Kovacic, Mount, Ziyech, Giroud, Werner
LEEDS UTD: Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Cooper, Dallas; Phillips; Raphinha, Klich, Harrison, Alioski; Bamford
Chelsea’s quality all across the pitch and their recent run of form make them favourites going into the match on Saturday. However, Frank Lampard will be wary of Leeds United’s relentless press and work rate and certainly will not be taking this game for granted. My prediction is Chelsea’s quality will eventually shine through.
CHELSEA 3-1 LEEDS UNITED
Written by- Manan (MananCFC)
Cover edit- XP Edits (@xp_editss on Instagram)