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Exclusive Leeds showed against Man City, they're not just about flash and flair - United beware

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Leeds United's Diego Llorente celebrates with his team-mates after scoring the equaliser against Liverpool

Leeds United's Diego Llorente celebrates with his team-mates after scoring the equaliser against Liverpool

Leeds United's Diego Llorente celebrates with his team-mates after scoring the equaliser against Liverpool

I BELIEVE Manchester United will beat Leeds this afternoon at Elland Road and keep alive their very faint hopes of hauling in the neighbours Manchester City as the Premier League race approaches its end.

Those hopes at least had a pulse last Wednesday night when John McGinn scored for Aston Villa after 20 seconds.

And again when City’s John Stones was red carded just before half-time.

But no, Pep Guardiola’s boys just eased their way through the second half of the match and earned themselves three fabulous points and they can now see the finish line.

United will end up second now, but they will want to win today’s match for reasons of pure pride.

These two British cities are separated by the Pennine Mountains and there has always been a huge rivalry between them as cities and between their football teams.

Even back in my playing days, the games against Leeds were two that United fans wanted us to win.

Yes, they wanted us to beat City, they wanted us to beat Liverpool. And they wanted us to beat Leeds – it’s a rivalry that has only died a little because Leeds were out of the top flight for 17 years.

Now they are back and the desire to win has returned as well.

Those matches that I played in were seriously physical encounters, there was no room for the faint of heart in those games.

If Manchester United see the Premier League title as being too far over the horizon, Leeds, under their superb coach, Marcelo Bielsa, can see European football coming into their view.

They have taken four points from their last two games, Manchester City away and Liverpool at home, and a win this afternoon would set them up for a very strong finish to the season.

Leeds are going well just now, even though their top scorer, Patrick Bamford, with 14 Premier League goals, has hit a dry spell.

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I like Bamford, I like his movement off the ball and the easy way he seems to get around the pitch.

And he refused to play for Ireland in an honourable way, saying that he did not feel Irish despite having the necessary relatives to allow him to don the Green.

If you are going to refuse to play for Ireland do it that way, not in the manner others did.

He and Raphinha have been outstanding for Leeds this season.

The Brazilian winger looks like a class act and I am not at all surprised to read about rumoured interest in Raphinha from both Manchester United and Liverpool.

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have one eye on the midweek clash with Roma

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have one eye on the midweek clash with Roma

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have one eye on the midweek clash with Roma

Whether he plays or not this afternoon will be a last-minute job, but Leeds’ fans will be hoping for some of the magic in Raphinha’s feet that has got the big clubs interested in their man.

Leeds could turn a quick profit on Raphinha, whom they bought from French club Rennes last summer. But Leeds’ preference will be to keep their man.

The style Bielsa demands of the Leeds players is a hard-driving one as they keep going for every minute of every match.

Going out of the FA Cup in the third round was a help to Leeds as it gave them a few weekends in February without games.

But if Leeds do make it to European action next season, then Bielsa’s board must back their man.

He will need three of four more top-quality players to allow his team to maintain their all-action style when playing in Europe on a Thursday.

Manchester United’s players ought to be used to the demands of European football – it is part of the club’s make-up – they knew what they were getting into when arriving at Old Trafford.

Success in Europe is part of what makes Manchester United special.

They’ve a Europa League semi-final first leg against Roma coming up on Thursday and that must be in the mind of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

He has a big enough group of players to deal with such demands, but United supporters will not be happy if he puts out a weakened team today and loses the match.

Leeds’ style of open, attacking football, that involves hitting quickly on the break when you come on to them, means they play in games where they win easily – or get hammered.

United found that out when they scored in the first minute in the meeting at Old Trafford earlier in the season.

And went on to win by a handsome 6-2 as Leeds chased the game and left themselves wide open.

Something similar could happen today, with the scoreline reversed, if United offer Leeds the chance of doing it.

Manchester United should be too cute for that. But, as Leeds showed two weeks ago against Manchester City, they are not just about flash and flair, they can dig in when they have to and defend in numbers and with purpose.

With Thursday in mind, I can see players who don’t always start, such as Mason Greenwood, Juan Mata and Daniel James having a big say in what happens here for Manchester United. They may well be on from the opening minute of the game.

Ole will want to save what he believes is his very best XI for Thursday and for the one chance he has left of securing silverware this season.

In those circumstances Leeds will smell blood. But I think that United are still good enough to win.

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