Paul McGrath: Leeds are smelling blood as they eye up weakened Manchester United
I predict some niggle with Red Devils looking vulnerable minus key players
When I was playing, Leeds United against Manchester United was one of the games of the season.
The supporters didn’t like each other, the clubs were huge rivals for honours – and there was a peculiarly British rivalry between two cities sitting below different sides of the Pennines mountain range.
They clash at Elland Road this afternoon, for the second time in five days, with both teams needing points for very different reasons.
It’s very unusual for teams to play two league matches within five days of each other, but that is what will happen today.
After both Arsenal and Manchester City lost last weekend, Red Devils fans would have seen a brief window of opportunity where they might actually challenge for the Premier League crown.
That window slammed shut almost as quickly as it had opened on Wednesday night, when they had to come from 0-2 down to snatch a point at Old Trafford.
Leeds had the better of the match for long spells, with their teenage winger Willy Gnonto outstanding.
Indeed Leeds hit the bar, with a brilliant Brenden Aaronson free-kick, when they were still ahead.
Leeds’s loyalists would have snapped your hand off for a point as they travelled to Manchester last week.
Now they will want more from a home match, having seen their team put it up to the Reds in a major way.
No doubt, United are a bit vulnerable at the moment, with Erik ten Hag’s favoured midfield of Christian Eriksen and Casemiro out through injury and suspension respectively.
Eriksen must be a joy to play with. Every time a team-mate gets into trouble, the Dane is there ready to take an out-ball.
While Casemiro’s huge experience with Real Madrid always comes to the fore when it counts.
He has the happy knack of knowing where to be, when it matters most.
We only saw the highlights of Wednesday’s match, but it seemed to be a belter of a game.
Yet it wasn’t, as far as I could note, in the feisty traditions of these two teams.
It all passed off relatively quietly. Will that happen again today? Unlikely, you’d have to think.
But then our game is changing. It is so much faster and fitter, and more skilful, than in my time.
And, with 15 TV cameras at every match, you just can’t kick anyone off the ball anymore.
So those old hugely physical battles of games don’t happen much now.
Still I’d be astonished if these teams square up to each other for a second time in a few days – and someone, somewhere, doesn’t leave a boot in.
Leeds are playing without a manager right now and getting rid of Jesse Marsch before he had even completed a year in the job at Leeds is typical of the way the game is going.
After the legs ran out on Marcelo Bielsa’s all-action style, the board turned to Marsch.
Did they check out his style of usually playing 4-3-3 with the emphasis on width and good attacking play? That’s all very well in continental leagues, where the top teams will always beat up on the Mickey Mouse teams.
It doesn’t work in Britain, where every game is a battle, and if you play 4-3-3 against a struggling team you better take every goal chance you get, because the opposition are going to score.
What happened to Marsch?
Leeds’ leading goalscorer of the last four seasons, Patrick Bamford, was injured for most of his time in charge and Leeds lost too many matches, when the American was their boss, because they did not have someone to stick the ball in the net.
So Marsch will have got a pay-off and will doubtless pop up again as manager at another club, excusing this failure on his CV through Bamford’s injury.
Graham Potter too will secure a life-changing sum of money if Chelsea’s owner, Todd Boehly, loses patience with a mid-table finish.
You’d wonder what goes on in football boardrooms?
Do the people there have a thorough knowledge of the game before they commit massive sums to the buying of footballers and the securing the services of managers.
All the evidence is that they do not.
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