The low down on Leeds
English Barclays Premiership
On the evidence of Tuesday night’s 6-0 demolition of Besiktas in the Champions League, the visit of Spurs to Elland Road should be a formality for Leeds — on paper at least. But it doesn’t quite stack up. The elite league of European football is not a reliable guide when business returns to usual on a Saturday.
Chelsea proved as much last term when they found returning from the playing fields of Europe to their own back yard a transition not entirely to their new-found taste.
It would be wrong to accuse Leeds of suffering delusions of grandeur, but while they have prepared to visit or play host to the likes of Barcelona and AC Milan, newly promoted Manchester City and Ipswich have left West Yorkshire with three points each towards the target of Premiership safety. Derby were also allowed to continue their recently developed habit of snatching draws from likely defeat at Pride Park.
So it would be fair to say that George Graham’s reunion with his former Lieutenant David O’Leary is not the forgone conclusion that many imagine.
Following a low-key Worthington Cup tie in midweek, a prestige Premiership fixture could be just what the team needs ahead of an international break. A sell-out crowd is almost a certainty, and recent visits of Spurs have had an edge to them. George will be guaranteed his usual warm welcome from the locals and there will doubtless be the usual verbal jousting on the touchline over just about every decision. All in all a typical Saturday afternoon ding-dong between two of the great names in English football.
Leeds were expected to spend heavily in the summer to bolster their squad for the European and domestic challenges ahead. Olivier Dacourt and Mark Viduka duly arrived from Lens and Celtic respectively, then the recruitment drive lost some momentum. Many were linked but none seemed to arrive and, given a growing injury list, additions became a matter of urgency.
Eventually Dominic Matteo checked in from Liverpool, but he was injured on arrival. The versatile defender finally announced himself to the crowd with a fine performance against AC Milan.
The absence of the gifted Australian Harry Kewell has been a big blow to O’Leary, along with that of David Batty, Jason Wilcox, Jonathan Woodgate and now Michael Duberry. But misfortune leads to opportunity - and striker Alan Smith has certainly grabbed his.
The 19-year-old former trainee played second fiddle much of last season to the favoured spearhead of Kewell and Michael Bridges. This campaign, Smith, described by his own manager as a ‘rogue’ and a ‘thug’ at various times, has seized his chance, scored five goals, and was rewarded with a place in the England squad that travelled to France in September.
While Smith is an obvious attacking threat, the Spurs rearguard will be watchful of London lad Lee Bowyer. The England under-21 international has run into form and now heads the Leeds scoring charts.
In three of the past four seasons, Leeds have won this fixture with the only goal of the game and Spurs have only ever won eight of 40 league visits. But, Saturday is a whole new ball game.
By Richard Hubbard