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Corinthians have gone from also-rans to running away with the title

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In June 2016, Corinthians’ two-time Serie A winning manager Adenor Bacchi departed the club after multiple spells to preside over the national team.

And in response to that exit, the club joined the annual managerial merry-go-round of the national league by appointing Oswaldo Oliveira and later Cristovao Borges with little success.

After six months of waiting patiently for results to go their way, the club promoted Fabio Carille as their first team manager. Being a defender during his playing days, Carille gave the team a playing style that well reflected his identity and position on the pitch.

In the Sao Paulo state championship at the start of the year, Corinthians emerged unlikely winners by edging out more talented and expensive squads of Palmeiras and Santos.

Throughout the league, Corinthians conceded a miserly 11 goals over 18 matches, the least of all. Despite clinching the 2017 Campeonato Paulista, Timao failed to impress football pundits and bookmakers alike.

Yes, they are a big name in Brazilian football but there were too many problems inside the club, paying for the new stadium being one of them.

Considering their 7th place finish in the Serie A last year and lack of talented attacking players on the field – apart from Jadson and Jo – Corinthians were not deemed as favourites for the Brasileiro Serie A.

As we arrive in the final third of the league marathon, Corinthians have gone from also-rans to running away with the title. The squad has proved its critics wrong in emphatic fashion but having said that, this is no flash in the pan form.

The club has been tested on several occasions this season with the team coming out on top almost every time but the derby against defending champions Palmeiras was largely viewed as a litmus test.

The Big Greens were trailing Corinthians by five points and a victory would have cut the difference to just two, making the title race tighter in the penultimate stages.

However, at the Arena Corinthians, the home side ran out 3-2 winners with Angel Romero being the star of the match while the unsung hero was defender Fabian Balbuena who did well to keep the opposition at bay.

Balbuena, along with Pablo, has formed a rock solid partnership at the back that has helped Cassio keep 17 clean sheets in the league. The sturdy defense has leaked a mere 23 goals in 33 games in the league.

Those numbers do not mean Timao are simply parking the bus to win points though. Through the fluid 4-2-3-1 system, the team now has the joint third best number of goals scored in the league. Of the 44 goals scored, Jo has netted 16 and been involved in three more.

He is currently the joint top scorer of the league along with Fluminese’s Henrique Dourado and the side has become a pleasure to watch as they attempt intricate through balls and attack from the flanks.

Despite their solid defensive record, Corinthians do boast the third best possession in the league at slightly above 53%. Further, their aim of playing tiki-taka with short passes has made them the team with the best pass success rate in the league at close to 84%.

With an eight-point lead at the top of the table and five matches to go, Corinthians can be champions in their next fixture against Fluminese if other results go their way.

While their impending triumph may not be a shock, Carille has quite surprisingly built a well-oiled machine which has bagged the title in emphatic fashion.

Leicester City

5 of the best bargain buys in the Premier League since the turn of the decade

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5 best bargain buys in the Premier League since the turn of the decade

The 2019 summer transfer window has already witnessed some big-money arrivals in the Premier League.

Man United have made their intentions very clear by forking out £50million for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Leicester City have paid £40million to Monaco for Youri Tielemans and Spurs have come out of their reluctancy to spend big by snapping up Tanguy Ndombele for £60million, whilst Man City have shattered their club-record fee by splashing £62.8 million on Rodri. 

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These transfers have certainly made the headlines in the tabloids and things are expected to heat up even more in the coming weeks as the deadline day in August looms large.

Well, we all know that money flows quite easily in the Premier League nowadays and the fans would probably recall the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool throwing around millions in the transfer window last summer to bring in goalkeepers Arrizabalaga and Alisson respectively.

Similarly, the 2018 summer window also witnessed some shrewd acquisitions by a few clubs, with the likes of Liverpool, Wolves and Arsenal bringing in Xherdan Shaqiri, Joao Moutinho and Matteo Guendouzi from Stoke City, Monaco and FC Lorient respectively. 

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All the aforementioned players arrived the respective clubs for relatively small sums of money but they proved themselves to be as good as gold for such thrifty amounts.

Due to the exponential rise in the involvement of finances in football over the years, even the lesser clubs in the Premier League have the money in their bank to pull off audacious raids on the heavyweights nowadays.

Leicester City might have spent £30million to sign Ayoze Perez this summer but it is worth mentioning that Newcastle United had paid Tenerife only £1.5million to secure the Spaniard’s services back in 2014.

Going by whatever Perez went on to achieve at Tyneside over the course of five seasons, it is a no-brainer that the Spaniard was, indeed, a monumentous bargain for the Magpies.

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It is true that the Premier League clubs are spendthrifts these days, yet, realistically, they always have to be aware of the financial fair play regulations and it is certainly not possible for them to splash out millions in every transfer window.

And that is exactly why the bargain deals – be it plucking out unproven talents from far corners of the world or nabbing proven players from the lower divisions, are so crucial to the success of any team.

Keeping that in mind, let us take a look at some deals since the turn of the decade when players coming in for thrifty amounts have exceeded expectations.

1. Steven Davis – £800,000 (Rangers to Southampton)

Steven Davis won three Scottish Premiership titles, three Scottish League Cups and two Scottish Cups over the course his five-season stay at Ibrox, having initially joined the Old Firm giants on loan from Fulham back in 2008.

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The Northern Irishman, who was also a part of the Rangers side that reached the 2007-08 UEFA Cup final, moved to Southampton for a paltry £800,000 in 2012 prior to the Gers’ insolvency issues and subsequent demotion to the fourth-tier.

Despite lacking creativity and natural finesse, the central midfielder went on to establish himself as a firm fan favourite at St. Mary’s due to his drive, determination, willingness to compete and hunger for success.

Davis netted 14 goals in 226 appearances for the Saints before returning to Rangers in January 2019.

2. Patrick van Aanholt – £1.5million (Chelsea to Sunderland)

The Dutch international made only 8 appearances for Chelsea over the course of five seasons and spent time on loan at five different clubs, including Vitesse Arnhem where he stayed on for nearly two-and-a-half seasons before finally getting an opportunity to make his mark in the Premier League with Sunderland.

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The Black Cats spent just £1.5million to sign the left-back in 2014 and Van Aanholt, who had faded into oblivion as a part of Chelsea’s loan army, went on to establish himself as one of the standout performers at the club.

The Dutchman made 95 appearances for Sunderland in all competitions, scoring 9 goals in the process before joining Crystal Palace in January 2017.

3. James McArthur – £400,000 (Hamilton Academical to Wigan Athletic)

A part of the Hamilton Academical side that won the 2007-08 Scottish First Division title to secure promotion to the Scottish Premiership, James McArthur impressed with his strength, tenacity, drive, fluent passing and youthful exuberance in the top-flight north of the border for a couple of seasons before joining Wigan Athletic in the summer of 2010.

McArthur reunited with former Hamilton player James McCarthy following his move to the DW Stadium.

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After featuring sporadically in his first season, McArthur gradually established himself as first-team regular in his second season at the club, scoring against the likes of Bolton and Spurs in the Premier League.

McArthur helped Wigan secure the FA Cup in the 2012-13 season with a surprise 1-0 win against Man City in the final, although the Latics went down to the Championship in the same season.

McArthur stayed for a season in the Championship but he eventually departed for Crystal Palace in 2014.

Wigan are yet to make it back to the Premier League but the Latics would hardly rue the £400,000 that they spent on him given that the Scotsman went on to register a total of 156 appearances for them.

4. Robert Huth – £3million (Stoke City to Leicester City)

After spending five successful seasons at Stoke City in the Premier League, Robert Huth fell out of favour in the 2014-15 campaign and joined Leicester City on loan in January 2015 to help the Foxes in their bid for survival in the top-flight.

Huth made 14 appearances in the second half of the campaign and was one of the key driving forces behind their sudden upturn of form, as Nigel Pearson’s side came back from the brink of relegation to the secure a comfortable 14th-place finish.

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As a result of his fine performances, Huth was signed permanently by Leicester for a fee of £3million and the German went on to play a key role in the Foxes’ surprise Premier League triumph in the 2015-16 campaign, thus joining the elite list of players to have won the top-flight title with two different clubs.

The former Chelsea man played until the end of the 2016-17 season before his career came to a premature end due to ankle and foot injuries.

5. Andre Ayew- Free Transfer (Marseille to Swansea City)

Having scored 60 goals in 209 appearances for Marseille, Swansea looked to have pulled off a massive coup when they brought the Ghanaian in on a free transfer in the summer of 2015.

And Ayew proved himself to be the biggest bargain in the Premier League in the 2015-16 season, as the versatile left-winger struck 12 goals in his debut campaign in English football. 

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Ayew was sold to West Ham just after a single full season, with the Hammers splashing the cash to sign the Ghanaian. However, in a twist of fate, Swansea splashed a similar amount to bring him back to the club in January 2018.

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Celtic

Comparing the transfer approach of Neil Lennon and Brendan Rodgers at Celtic

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Comparing the transfer approach of Neil Lennon and Brendan Rodgers at Celtic

It has all been one-way traffic in the Scottish Premiership over the past eight seasons or so, with Celtic establishing themselves as the undisputed powerhouses in Scotland ever since the financial crisis at Ibrox hit Rangers hard on the face.

With Rangers failing to reinstate their challenge for trophies following their return to the top-flight in 2016, Celtic’s unparalleled dominance has reigned supreme in recent years.

Neil Lennon, who returned to the club for his first managerial stint in 2010, and then Brendan Rodgers, who took charge in 2016, guided the Hoops to eight straight domestic titles, albeit Ronny Delia was also at the helm of affairs for a while prior to Rodgers’ arrival.

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Celtic won three back-to-back Scottish domestic titles under Lennon but it was under Rodgers that they completed the historic ‘treble treble’, starting from the 2016-17 to 2018-19 season, thus marking one of the most glorious periods ever in the club’s history.

Rodgers certainly achieved a lot more on the pitch when compared to his predecessors before leaving for Leicester City in February 2019, only to be replaced by club-legend and former manager Neil Lennon.

Well, it is a no-brainer that Rodgers gave the fans at Parkhead a lot to cheer about and while the Hoops never really made much of an impact in the European competitions, they hardly left any silverware on the domestic front unconquered, ranging from the league title to the Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup.

The critics might argue that there wasn’t enough competition to halt Celtic’s juggernaut under Rodgers but that kind of dominance was truly phenomenal, nevertheless.

However, with all due respect to whatever Rodgers achieved on the pitch, it would be fair to say that his approach in the transfer window was a lot different from Lennon’s and didn’t really work in accordance with the club’s structure and organisation.

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A look back at Neil Lennon’s recruitment policy from his first managerial stint at Celtic

To justify this statement, let us look at the kind of change that Neil Lennon brought about at Parkhead when he took over as the permanent manager prior to the start of the 2010-11 season.

Seemingly unhappy with the commitment levels of the existing set of players at the club, Lennon opted for a massive squad overhaul and plucked out some relatively unknown and unproven players from the far corners of the world.

The summer of 2010 saw the arrival of players like Beram Kayal, Emilio Izaguirre and Gary Hooper for thrifty amounts, while experienced and proven veterans like Cha Du-Ri, Daniel Majstorovic, Charlie Mulgrew, as well as Joe Ledley, all came through the door on free transfers.

Fraser Forster was also brought in on loan from Newcastle and later signed permanently, with the towering English shot-stopper going on to set a record for clean-sheets in Scottish football. 

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All the aforementioned players went on to earn plenty of plaudits for their impressive displays and most of them established themselves as mainstays of the club’s first-team for years to come.

Adam Matthews and Mikael Lustig were signed on free transfers in the summer of 2011 and we all witnessed the kind of impact that they had in the subsequent campaigns.

Not to mention Victor Wanyama, who arrived as a complete rookie from Belgian outfit Beerschot in the same transfer window. Celtic pulled off another massive bargain in the January window with the signing of playmaker Kristian Commons from Derby County.

Equally, Lennon’s expertise in the transfer market saw Celtic bring in the likes of Tom Rogic and Efe Ambrose in the summer of 2012. Both players went on to establish themselves as the key driving forces behind Celtic’s dominance.

Just to remind the fans, Virgil van Dijk arrived at Celtic from Dutch club Groningen in the summer of 2013 when Lennon was in charge and we all know what followed.

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Celtic were pretty much in the driver’s seat on the domestic front by then and the January transfer window witnessed Lennon pull off another masterstroke with the signing of Leigh Griffiths from Wolves.

Well, he might not be at the top of his game any longer but his monumentous feat of scoring 31 goals in the 2015-16 league campaign is still likely to be fresh in the memories of the fans.

How Rodgers went about things in the market

Now, let us shift our focus to how Brendan Rodgers went about things in the transfer window.

It is obvious that each manager has his own way of building a squad when he takes charge of a new club and the motive of this discussion is not to criticise Rodgers’ transfer dealings during his glorious spell at Parkhead but to simply focus on the completely different approach that he adopted in the market.

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As opposed to Lennon, who had to put in a lot of work in order to assemble a new-looking Celtic unit back in 2010-11, Rodgers inherited a good set of proven and established players at the club.

That, however, didn’t stop him from making a few signings in his first summer, as the former Liverpool boss brought in the likes of Kristoffer Ajer, Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair.

Both Dembele and Ajer proved to be massive bargains for Celtic, with the latter still very much a key figure at the back, whilst Sinclair is still racking up the goals and assists in the top-flight.

Rodgers’ first flop signing turned out to be Ivorian midfielder Eboue Kouassi, who arrived from Russian club Krasnodar in January 2017 for a fee of £2.8million. Kouassi’s stint at Celtic has proven to be an ill-fated one, with recurrent injuries and inconsistencies stalling the Ivorian’s progress at Parkhead. 

Looking at Celtic’s dealings in the summer of 2017, Olivier Ntcham arrived from Man City for £4.5million as a marquee signing, while his teammate Patrick Roberts also joined on loan.

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Both of them would go on to have contrasting futures at Parkhead, with Roberts taking Scottish football by storm and proving himself to be an influential figure in the club’s attacking ranks, whereas Ntcham faded away after a promising start.

One cannot help but feel that Celtic haven’t really got the most out of the money that they had spent to bring Ntcham to the club despite the Frencham teasing the fans with his glimpses of brilliance.

Odsonne Edouard, who had initially arrived on loan from PSG, went on to become a fan favourite due to his goalscoring exploits in the 2017-18 campaign but Rodgers took everyone by surprise when he convinced the board to splash out a club-record £9million to sign the French striker permanently in the summer of 2018.

Also, the acquisition of Marvin Compper in January hardly made any sense given that the German didn’t play any significant role in the remaining games, whilst £1.5million was probably too much to spend on Jack Hendry, who came in as a future prospect at Parkhead.

The marked difference between the two

Well, these figures might seem like a drop in the ocean to the fans in the Premier League but in all honesty, money doesn’t flow the same way north of the border and those kinds of transfer fees are still considered as massive in the Scottish top-flight.

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Undoubtedly, both Rodgers and Lennon have been successful managers at Celtic, but the main question is – has the latter shown a greater level of acumen, wisdom and shrewdness in his transfer dealings?

To put things into perspective, it is a no-brainer that Lennon brought success to Celtic by spending a significantly less amount of cash as compared to Rodgers.

Lennon, who had carved out a big reputation for bringing in quality players on free transfers and for thrifty amounts during his first managerial stint at Parkhead, apparently has a good knowledge of the lower leagues and we have seen over the years that very few of his transfers have failed to pay the dividends.

It is clear that Rodgers spent quite a lot even on project players, the latest of them being the likes of Maryan Shved and Vakoun Issouf Bayo in January 2019, while Lennon always seems to know somebody who would come in for the same amount of money and play a big part in the first-team right away without spending too much time on the bench. And that kind of an approach certainly suits Celtic a lot more.

What Edouard has achieved at Celtic is similar to the heroics of Alfredo Morelos at Rangers, leaving many to wonder whether the Hoops could have brought in a player of the same quality for a much lower fee.

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Has Edouard matched the exploits of Gary Hooper and Leigh Griffiths? Likewise, has Ntcham bettered the returns of someone like Kris Commons in a Celtic shirt?

Well, that hasn’t been the case so far. While the French pair does have the quality to go on and hit great heights in the future, one should not forget that the two other players mentioned above arrived at Celtic for ridiculously low transfer fees when Lennon was in charge.

Yes, it is true that Lennon has also opted to spend big on Christopher Jullien and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo this summer but that can be seen as a desperate measure given that the Hoops were struggling to find replacements for the likes of Benkovic, Boyata, Lustig, Gamboa and Izaguirre.

Maybe Neil Lennon knows that it is impossible to cope with so many departures without splashing the cash.

All in all, Lennon has proven himself to be a shrewd operator in the transfer market when compared to Rodgers, and that makes him a better fit for Celtic’s structure and organisation.

He lives and breathes the culture at Parkhead and there can’t really be anyone better than him to take the club forward.

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Leeds Dragon

Throwback to Leeds United’s glory days: The Whites’ march to the semi-finals of the 2000-01 UEFA Champions League

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A throwback to Leeds United’s glory days: Reliving the Whites march to the semi-finals of the 2000-01 UEFA Champions League

The agonising tale of Leeds United’s dramatic downfall in English football since the turn of the century continues to be a burning topic of discussion amongst the football fans in West Yorkshire, with the Whites’ period of exile from the top-flight completing the 15-year mark at the end of the 2018-19 season. 

It looked as if the Yorkshire giants were finally going to be roused from their deep sleep by the Midas touch of manager Marcelo Bielsa, with Leeds operating in the upper reaches of the Championship for large quarters of this past season.

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The Whites were on top of the standings at one point of time and it looked for certain that they were going to announce their return to the mainstream of English football in an emphatic manner.

However, as we all know that it is a long and hard slog for each and every team in the second-tier, a poor run of form over the Easter period saw Leeds finish below the automatic promotion places, with Norwich City and Sheffield United securing the top-two berth.

A subsequent 4-3 defeat at the hands Derby County in the playoff semi-finals meant that Leeds’ surge for promotion came to nothing in the end.

Now, it is up to Leeds to put all that disappointment behind themselves and start right from the scratch next season, although that is hardly an easy thing to do.

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Rewinding to the time around the turn of the century, Leeds’ start to the new century wasn’t a bad one after all given that the Whites enjoyed a successful campaign on all fronts in the 2000-01 season.

Leeds might be a second-tier club nowadays but things at West Yorkshire were a lot brighter some fifteen years ago when the Whites used to finish in the top-four in the Premier League on a consistent basis and also compete in European tournaments.

The fans of the current generation are unlikely to have any memories of the club taking part in European competitions but they might as well have heard stories from the older heads about Leeds’ heroics on the European stage.

As a matter of fact, the Whites might currently be in oblivion as far as top-flight and European football is concerned but there are fans who surely still recall the success that David O’Leary’s side tasted in the 2000-01 UEFA Champions League.

Leeds were unable to build on their amazing European run though, and went on to compete in the UEFA Cup for a couple of more seasons before ultimately fading into obscurity following their relegation from the Premier League at the end of the 2003-04 campaign.

Indeed, the financial crisis at the club was a matter of humiliation at that time and it tarnished Leeds’ image to a great extent.

However, it is definitely worth taking a walk down the memory lane and bringing back the memories of Leeds’ glorious run in the 2000-01 Champions League.

As Marcelo Bielsa and his side get their preparations underway for the upcoming Championship campaign, let us relive the European heroics of David O’Leary’s side from that particular season.

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Background

Michael Bridges’ 19 goals in the 1999-00 Premier League season propelled Leeds United to a 3rd-place finish in the league, just behind champions Man United and runners-up Arsenal.

As a result of that, Leeds secured an entry into to the third qualifying round of the 2000-01 UEFA Champions League. Only the top two teams in the Premier League used to secure qualification to the group stages of Europe’s elite club competition in those days.

As a part of their preparations heading into the Champions League, Leeds splashed the cash in the summer of 2000 and brought in a number of high-profile signings, including Olivier Dacourt from Lens, Rio Ferdinand from West Ham, Mark Viduka from Celtic and Dominic Matteo from Liverpool. Robbie Keane was also brought in on loan from Inter Milan in the winter transfer window.

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Qualifying Round

Leeds United were drawn to face German outfit 1860 Munich in the final qualifying round prior to the group stages of the competition and the Whites made it through after 180 minutes of neck-to-neck football over two legs. 

The first leg at Elland Road witnessed a tense, hard-fought encounter between the two sides, as O’Leary’s side secured a 2-1 victory to carry a clear advantage into the second leg.

Goals from Alan Smith and Ian Harte on either side of the halfway mark set the tone for Leeds and Paul Agostino’s 90th-minute strike proved to be nothing more than a mere consolation.

With the vital away goal in their pocket, a 1-0 victory at home would have been enough for Munich to guarantee qualification to the group stage. However, Leeds put up a resolute show at the back and kept the opposition at bay, with Alan Smith’s 46th-minute strike sending them through 3-1 on aggregate.

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First Group Stage

The Yorkshire giants were drawn in the group of death (Group H) together with continental heavyweights AC Milan and Barcelona, whilst Turkish giants Besiktas were in the mix as well.

Leeds didn’t have the best possible start though, as they kicked off their campaign with a 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Barcelona at Camp Nou.

Goals from Rivaldo and Frank de Boer in the first half coupled with Patrick Kluivert’s brace in the second half sunk the West Yorkshire outfit and marked a dreadful start to the group stages.

They did, however, resurrect their campaign in their second game against AC Milan at Elland Road. Leeds showed plenty of character and resilience to stop their opponents from scoring and Lee Bowyer’s 89th-minute strike handed them a surprise 1-0 victory and a valuable three points.

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Up next for Leeds was a double-header against Turkish club Besiktas, the first of which was scheduled to be played at Elland Road.

O’Leary’s men were the favourites heading into the fixture and they hardly gave the opposition any breathing space, as the Whites romped home with an emphatic 6-0 victory. New signings Viduka and Matteo got their names on the scoresheet, while Bowyer once again starred with a brace.

Leeds and Besiktas played out a goalless draw in Turkey before the Whites played host to Barcelona at Elland Road towards the end of October. A repeat of that 4-0 demolition would have been anticipated by many but it proved to be a completely different story when the Whites played the La Liga giants at home.

Bowyer opened the scoring in the 5th minute and it looked as if Leeds were going to bag all three points, only to be denied by a last-minute equaliser from Rivaldo.

The Yorkshire giants went into the final group game at San Siro knowing that a draw would be enough to secure qualification to the next round, given that Milan had already booked their place in the second group stage.

The game finished 1-1, with Serginho’s second-half equaliser cancelling out Matteo’s strike at the halfway mark. Barcelona went on to thrash Besiktas 5-0 but Leeds finished second in Group H with 9 points. 

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Second Group Stage

Back in the days around the turn of the century, the last 16 format in the Champions League wasn’t a knockout round and it was known as the second group stage.

A draw was conducted to prepare four groups with four teams each, with each group consisting of two winners and two runners-up from the previous round.

Teams from the same country or from the same first-round group could not be drawn together and the top two teams from each group progressed to the quarter-finals.

Group A toppers Real Madrid, Group G winners Anderlecht and Group B runners-up Lazio were paired with Leeds United in the second group stage, draw which was expected to be extremely competitive.

As was the case in the first round, Leeds started off with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid at Elland Road, with goals from Fernando Hierro and Raul Gonzalez handing the Whites an early scare.

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They did, however, manage to get things back on track away from home against Lazio in their second game, as Alan Smith’s strike late in the fixture sealed three crucial points for David O’Leary side.

Leeds’ victory over the Lazio ensured that they went into the Christmas period with their European hopes still very much intact.

Following the winter break, Leeds played host to Anderlecht at Elland Road and the double-header against the Belgian giants was always going to go a long way towards deciding the Whites’ fortunes.

Leeds went a goal down, courtesy of Alin Stoica’s strike in the 65th-minute but they rallied on, and late goals from Bowyer and Harte sealed a remarkable 2-1 comeback victory to hand O’Leary’s side a massive boost heading into the reverse leg in Belgium.

The return leg in Belgium proved to be a rather one-sided encounter though, as Smith’s brace and goals from Viduka and Harte propelled Leeds to a comfortable 4-1 win, thus guaranteeing their progress to the quarter-finals.

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Leeds’ away fixture against Real Madrid early in March turned out to be an epic encounter, with both the sides going hammer and tongs at each other. Alan Smith’s 6th-minute opener was cancelled out by Raul’s goal in the very next minute before Luis Figo handed the Los Blancos a 2-1 lead going into the interval. 

Leeds found the equaliser through Mark Viduka’s strike in the second half but Raul’s 61st-minute winner proved to be the difference between the two sides as the game finished 3-2 in favour of the Spanish heavyweights.

The final game of the second group stage at Elland Road against Lazio proved to be an entertaining see-saw battle, although the game finished 3-3 and the teams shared the spoils.

Leeds finished as runners-up in Group D behind Real Madrid and booked their berth in the quarter-finals.

Quarter-finals

Leeds were paired to face Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna in the last-eight of the competition and the tie was expected to be anything but straightforward for the Yorkshire giants.

However, O’Leary’s men silenced their critics in the first leg at Elland Road, as Leeds romped home with an emphatic 3-0 scoreline and virtually sealed the tie in their favour heading into the second leg in Spain. 

Goals from Smith, Ferdinand and Harte handed the Whites a clear advantage but it proved to be a bit of an anti-climax in the reverse fixture away from home.

Having been completely outplayed by Leeds in the first game, Deportivo showed a lot more quality on their home turf and gave the Yorkshire outfit a big scare, as a penalty from Djalminha and a second-half goal from Diego Tristan handed the Spaniards a 2-0 victory.

Leeds failed to hit top gear in Spain but they progressed to the semi-finals with a 3-2 aggregate scoreline, nonetheless. 

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Semi-Finals

David O’Leary successfully guided Leeds United to their first European Cup semi-final since 1975 and the home tie against Valencia at Elland Road was always going to be a monumentous occasion for the fans.

However, Leeds never managed to score in the first leg at home, with them failing to convert several clear-cut chances in front of a raucous home crowd. The Whites left themselves with a lot of work to do in the away leg at Mestalla.

Given that the first leg had finished 0-0, Leeds knew that a 1-0 victory or even a 1-1 draw away from home would be enough to set up a final showdown with Bayern Munich. However, Valencia proved themselves to be a difficult opposition to overcome on their home turf and Leeds found themselves playing catch-up for the entire ninety minutes.

Juan Sanchez opened the scoring for Valencia in the 15th minute before the Spaniard netted his second of the night just after the interval to make it 2-0 in favour of the La Liga side. And Gaizka Mendieta’s strike just after a few minutes meant that Leeds had a mountain to climb. 

There was no fairytale comeback, however, from the Yorkshire giants and O’Leary’s side finally bowed out of the competition in the last four stage. Bayern Munich went on to register a penalty shootout victory over Valencia in the final and the Bavarian giants lifted the trophy at the San Siro.

Raul finished as the tournament’s top scorer with 7 goals, while Leeds duo Lee Bowyer and Alan Smith also found their names right up there with 6 and 5 goals respectively. The Whites failed to make it to the finals but their glorious run will always be a part of the history books at Elland Road. 

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