A dormant rivalry is set to erupt back into life this evening as Leeds welcome Chelsea to Elland Road for a place in the Capital One Cup semi finals.
Although the two clubs are well apart geographically, and now equally so in terms of league ranking, there will still be a hostile edge to tonight’s match, the first meeting between the pair in eight years. With a rather unusual looking line up to the semi finals of the Capital One Cup this season, this match is a fantastic opportunity for both clubs to take a step closer to Wembley, raising the severity of the occasion.
The roots of this rivalry, arguably still one of the greatest in English football, date back to the late sixties, an era in which Leeds and Chelsea were very much on a level playing field in terms of ability and the games were often best remembered more for their physicality and brutality as opposed to skill.
Perhaps the cementing of this rivalry came in 1970, as Chelsea edged Leeds in the FA Cup Final. After two full blooded games (the first match ended in a 2-2 draw forcing a replay at Old Trafford) it was Chelsea who emerged victorious for their maiden FA Cup trophy and prolonged Leeds’ wait for that much sought first FA Cup success …for an additional two years.
Since then, there has always been a hostility between the two clubs and the pairing of Leeds and Chelsea in tonight’s Capital One game is sure to rekindle the emotions that may have temporarily subsided. Of course fast forwarding to the current era, and the two clubs are now at contrasting ends of the football spectrum.
Whilst Chelsea were defeating Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in May, Leeds were slumping to a bottom half finish in the Championship which resulted in the extension of their absence from the top table of English football. Nearly a decade has now passed since Leeds last set foot in the Premier League, and this plus the arrival of Roman Abromovich and his wallet to Stamford Bridge, has seen a vast gap emerge between the two clubs.
But in a one off, straight knock out match anything is possible, as Bradford will eagerly testify.
Leeds will have reason to believe that there is more than a distinct possibility of an upset being on the cards, especially with the benefit of home advantage. An upturn in form has seen Leeds win four of their last five Championship fixtures and they have began their steady climb back towards the promotion places; Leeds enter the match in decent form and for the first time this season, Warnock is having the luxury of a settled team as injury and suspension problems are reducing.
By contrast, Chelsea’s season is somewhat stalling after a promising start and the arrival of Rafa Benitez seems to have unstabled the club further. Poor league form and a manager who is unwanted and disrespected amongst the supporters is not a recipe for success. Leeds will be looking to capitalise on this. They also have the added disadvantage of arriving at Elland Road less than 48 hours after a long flight back from Japan where they competed in two games in the World Club Championship.
Will this fatigue have an impact on the standard of football Chelsea produce? Leeds will certainly be hoping so.
As with any potential tricky cup tie, Benitez will need to warn his side against complacency, regardless of what strength side he opts to field. This will be doubly relevant for a rivalry of this magnitude, especially with Neil Warnock in the opposing dugout, who is notoriously famous for getting his side well up for the big occasions.
Despite their current status of Championship mediocrity, Leeds are still regarded as one of the heavyweights in English football and it is important that Benitez, and his players recognise just how much defeating Leeds will mean to Chelsea supporters.
Although there is a proportionate amount of mutual hatred exchanged between the two sets of fans, there are certain personnel who will be forever etched into both clubs historical contexts. Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink is adored by both sets of supporters as he scored buckets of goals firstly for Leeds, and then for Chelsea either side of the millennium.
The more up to date link is a certain Ken Bates who, putting it politely, isn’t held in quite as high esteem. Having sold Chelsea to Abramovich in 2004, Bates now owns Leeds, although for how much longer remains debatable with a takeover seemingly finalised and ready to be officially completed within the next few days.
The match promises to be fascinating, although here’s hoping that the game is remembered more for what happens on the pitch rather than any unwanted disturbances off it. One Yorkshire side has already ignored the form book by defeating a London based team in this competition. Could it really happen again?