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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5 Talking points from Championship gameweek 3 including Leeds United and Jan Siewert’s sacking
Five talking points from Championship game week three
The third gameweek of the 2019/20 Championship campaign offered a lot of thrills and spills throughout the weekend.
Hull City continued their unbeaten run, while Reading gave Cardiff City a 3-0 hiding on Sunday. But the biggest talking point of the weekend was Jan Siewart’s dismissal after Huddersfield Town fell to a 2-1 defeat to Fulham.
That being said, here are five talking points from the Championship gameweek three.
1. Luton Town 1-2 West Brom: Grady Diangana helps the Baggies to three points
After a miserable week that saw West Brom get eliminated from the Carabao Cup at the hands of Millwall, the Baggies managed to bounce back with a 2-1 win against Luton.
Substitute Grady Diangana scored twice within six minutes of coming on for his West Brom league debut to give Slaven Bilic’s side a crucial win.
West Brom are one of the five teams with seven points after three games, having come from behind to win 2-1 against Luton as they did on the opening day against Nottingham Forest.
2. Wigan Athletic 0-2 Leeds United: Patrick Bamford double sinks Wigan
Leeds United’s good start to the season continued at the weekend as they ran out 2-0 winners against a 10-man Wigan Athletic. Marcelo Bielsa’s side deserved a win, which saw them move back to the top of the Championship table.
If there was anybody in Leeds’ ranks who needed a goal to regain confidence, it had to be Patrick Bamford. With previous season’s top-scorer Kemar Roofe departing the club, the Whites desperately need Bamford to deliver the goods this term. And the former Chelsea man bagged a brace, sending the fans home on a happy note.
3. Barnsley 2-2 Charlton Athletic: The Addicks maintain their unbeaten start to the season
Charlton Athletic have enjoyed a solid start to the Championship campaign following their promotion this year. They are one of the five teams with seven points after three games.
A 90th-minute penalty from Lyle Taylor helped Charlton maintain their unbeaten start to the season in an entertaining draw with Barnsley at Oakwell.
Barnsley were 2-1 up, thanks to goals from Cauley Woodrow and Conor Chaplin, but a foul from defender Bambo Diaby on Conor Gallagher handed the Addicks a lifeline in the 90th minute.
And Taylor stepped up confidently to salvage a point from the spot for Lee Bowyer’s visitors.
4. Huddersfield Town 1-2 Fulham: Jan Siewert sacked by the Terriers
Jan Siewert was sacked after a defeat to Fulham which left him with a record of just one win in 19 matches at the John Smith’s stadium.
Only one point in the first three games has left the Terriers reeling in the relegation zone. It was all doom and gloom under Siewert and sacking him after a poor start to the season was perhaps the only decision the club’s hierarchy could take.
For now, Siewert’s assistant head coach Colin Bell remains a part of the coaching staff, and Mark Hudson will also be assisted by academy manager Leigh Bromby and under-19s manager Dean Whitehead.
5. Millwall 1-0 Sheffield Wednesday: The Owls’ unbeaten start to the season is over
Sheffield Wednesday’s unbeaten start to the new season was over as they fell to a 1-0 defeat to a 10-man Millwall in what was a very frustrating afternoon for the Owls.
Matt Smith gave Millwall the lead with a header from a corner but his teammate Jed Wallace was sent off in the first half. That gave Sheffield Wednesday a fantastic chance to maintain their 100% record. However, they struggled to create clear openings and lost at the Den.
5 Talking points from Leeds United’s 3-1 win vs Bristol City in the Championship season-opener
5 Talking Points from Leeds United’s 3-1 victory over Bristol City in the season-opener
Leeds United’s pursuit of promotion to the Premier League might have ended in disappointment last season but those demons hardly played a part when Marcelo Bielsa’s side made a thumping start to the 2019-20 campaign of the Championship with a resounding 3-1 victory over Bristol City at Ashton Gate on Sunday.
Many would have expected the Yorkshire giants to be in a hangover of the agony of blowing away a golden chance to make it to the Premier League last season but the Whites answered their critics in the best possible manner over the course of the 90 minutes in their 2019-20 Championship season-opener at Ashton Gate.
Indeed, in a dominant display that reflected the team’s tough character and strong mentality, Leeds sent out a strong message to the other promotion-chasing teams that they are ready to battle it out for the Championship’s ultimate prize – promotion to the Premier League.
Bielsa’s side caught the game by the scruff of the neck right from the very start as the Whites controlled possession with authority, never really allowing the Robins to get into their rhythm. They even managed to carve out some impressive chances of their own.
Pablo Hernandez’s wonder goal midway through the first-half followed by goals from Patrick Bamford and Jack Harrison in the second half was enough to seal all three points for the West Yorkshire giants, as Andreas Weimann’s deflected near-post strike eleven minutes from time proved to be just a mere consolation.
On a matchday where all the newly-relegated teams from the Premier League – Fulham, Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, suffered shock defeats, the fans at Elland Road have every reason to be happy with the fact that Leeds managed to overcome the jitters in their opening fixture.
Looking back at how things went for the Whites over the course of the ninety minutes at Ashton Gate, Marcelo Bielsa should have plenty of positives to take from his team’s victory and he is supposed to be the happiest of the lot given that all his hard work in stitching the team together during the pre-season seemed to have paid rich dividends.
With that in mind, let us analyse Leeds’ performance in detail and jot down a few talking points from their 3-1 victory over Bristol City.
1. Old is Gold – Pablo Hernandez is simply the best
Cometh the hour, cometh the man – it was none other than the 34-year-old Pablo Hernandez, who lit up the scenes at Ashton Gate with some eye-catching moments of individual brilliance to play a starring role in what was an excellent team performance.
The fans would probably have feared that this season would be the beginning of Hernandez’s decline given his advancing years, but the Spaniard once again reminded everybody of the old cliche, ‘age is nothing but just a number’.
Hernandez’s excellent close control and skilful turn to shift the ball on to his stronger foot, followed by an incredible curling strike into the top corner of David Bentley’s goal opened the scoring for the Whites in the first half, leaving many to wonder as to how the 34-year-old continues to produce such mesmerizing moments even at this age.
That, however, was just the beginning, as Hernandez continued to create problems for the Robins’ backline with his pace, guile, skills and subtle movement. He was once again in the thick of things in the second half, with the Spaniard setting up the second goal on a platter for Patrick Bamford.
Indeed, the season-opener was a reminder that Hernandez will need to play a key role once again this season if Leeds are to get over the promotion line.
2. Ben White’s impressive debut
Debates on how Leeds United would cope with the absence of Pontus Jansson at the heart of the defence have been raging in the media ever since the Swedish international switched to Brentford earlier in the summer.
Well, those talks are expected to cool down now given that debutant Ben White showed in the 3-1 victory that he is certainly capable of filling in Jansson’s shoes at the back despite his obvious lack of experience.
The critics might still argue that it is just the start of the season but the 21-year-old Brighton loanee did put up a strong performance in his first game for the Whites.
Deployed at the heart of the backline alongside the experienced Liam Cooper, White showed plenty of composure on the ball and in all honesty, his passing was comparable to a central midfielder.
The youngster registered a total of 65 passes at an accuracy rate of 84.5%, including 6 successful long balls, 3 aerial duels, 1 tackle, 1 interception and 3 clearances, figures which are a testament to his fine start at Elland Road.
3. A confidence booster for Patrick Bamford
If there was anybody in Leeds’ ranks who needed a goal to regain confidence, it had to be Patrick Bamford.
The former Middlesbrough man had netted only 9 goals in the Championship last season and never managed to nail down a regular starting role due to recurrent injuries, but with previous season’s top-scorer Kemar Roofe departing the club, Leeds desperately needed Bamford to deliver the goods this term.
And the elegant playmaking forward produced a fine performance up top in the 3-1 victory to begin his campaign on a positive note. His passing was slick, movement subtle, and he grabbed his scoring opportunity with both hands when Hernandez set it up for him with a fine piece of skill in the second half.
The fans will be hoping that this performance wasn’t a mere flash in the pan, and Bamford certainly needs to build on this start and make a habit of finding the net every week.
4. Bielsa’s persistence with his midfield trio
Bielsa, apparently, wasn’t too keen to experiment heavily with his team dynamics in the season-opener and the Argentine went into the game with his preferred 4-1-4-1 system.
While the likes of Bamford, Hernandez and Harrison stole the show with their goals, central midfielders Mateusz Klich, Adam Forshaw and Kalvin Phillips were also equal to the task and made a key contribution in the victory.
Despite a few moments of sloppiness, Phillips was an influential, robust and an authoritative presence in his deep role in the midfield as a shield for the rearguard.
The 23-year-old not only won possession back, but also retained the ball at his feet to set the tempo of the game and stamped his authority in the air. He also unleashed some wonderful long passes to turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye.
Klich and Forshaw, who operated in a more advanced role, also contributed equally to both the defence and the attack, also linking up very well with each other to carve out a few chances. In fact, it was Klich’s shot that led to Harrison’s goal in the second half.
5. A few question marks
While Leeds definitely have plenty of positives to take from a few individual performances and good team performance in their season-opener at Ashton Gate, Bielsa would probably have noted down that a few players at the back need to pull up their socks. And goalkeeper Kiko Casilla is certainly one of them.
It would be unfair to say that the Spaniard was outrightly poor on Sunday but he never really looked in complete control of the proceedings inside his penalty area, with his improper decision making threatening to put the team in trouble on a number of occasions.
Casilla made some good interventions but he sometimes came out of his zone and got nowhere close to the ball, signs which probably won’t go down too well with the manager. He was beaten at the near post for the goal he conceded, which isn’t a pleasant sight for any goalkeeper, although there was a slight deflection.
With Bailey Peacock-Farrell now out of the frame, Leeds will need the former Real Madrid star to raise his game and prove his worth between the sticks.
Casilla wasn’t the only one who showed some signs of early-season rustiness, as full-backs Stuart Dallas and Barry Douglas looked shaky on a number of occasions.
If their performance on Sunday was anything to go by, Bielsa would probably want the likes of Luke Ayling Ayling and Ezgjan Alioski to be available as soon as possible.
Despite tailing off since January, here’s how Bielsa can turn Leeds into a formidable force once again
Leeds opinion: How Bielsa can improve the Whites after trailing off since January
Until last Christmas, Leeds United were one of the best teams in the Championship and were well on their way to at least finish second in the table.
However, things took a downward curve since the turn of this year and here we are now talking about them remaining in England’s second-tier for at least one more season.
While we will take an in-depth look as to why this drop in performance happened, it is worth noting that Leeds United hired Marcelo Bielsa to get them back into the Premier League and stay there for years to come.
If the Whites are to keep the Argentine, the squad really needs to step up in the next 12 months and achieve the first target – promotion to the top-flight.
Now, let’s take a look at why there was a significant drop in their performances since the turn of the year and how Bielsa and co. can learn from that to improve next time around:
Injuries and high-intensity system
After his arrival last summer, the first few months of the Bielsa-era went smoothly, with the team playing an attractive brand of football and winning games in style.
But injuries to key players during the festive period started to take a toll on their performances, chiefly due to the fact that the Whites do not boast of a deep squad with high-quality players.
Once a first-choice player of a particular position got injured, it was always a struggle for the manager to replace him. Either there was a drop in quality or the gaffer had to shoehorn someone in that slot.
Furthermore, Bielsa struggled to replace Samu Saiz with an attacking midfielder of similar quality. There were numerous players tried in the dual number 10 position but none of them took the opportunity by the scruff.
In Bielsa’s system, full-backs have to do a lot of running, which is unlike what other managers did at Elland Road. Thus, injuries/drop in performances due to fatigue was a natural phenomenon.
In fact, left-back Barry Douglas, who was signed from Wolves last summer, missed a huge chunk of the season while right-back Luke Ayling struggled for consistency.
Due to a lack of proper backups in central defence, the manager had to field defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips in that position for quite a lot of games.
Thus, it has to be said that these things are not ideal to sustain the course of a 46-game season.
Now, the challenge for Bielsa is to get the players more attuned to playing his style of football for a longer period of time without fatigue and make intelligent signings to enhance the depth of the squad.
Once these two things happen to a certain extent, we can say that Leeds would have a great chance to go all the way next season.
It is fairly evident as to where Leeds and Bielsa have to improve if they are to get promoted to the Premier League.
The upcoming pre-season is very important for this team and the manager, as they should look to build on from the disappointments of last season rather than going into the shell.
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