Tag Archives: Wembley Stadium

Chelsea Need Some Leeds Style On-field Leadership, but Sarri Should Hold His Head High – by Rob Atkinson

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Today isn’t the first time I’ve felt a bit sorry for Chelsea, even though as a Leeds United fan, it’s in my DNA to despise them, and I normally manage that quite well. But I sympathised when they lost a Champions League Final on penalties to you-know-who, after outplaying them during the game itself. As loud as were the celebrations the length and breadth of Devon that night, I was gutted for the Bluescum. It was a question of which is the greater evil – no contest.

Today, though, I felt sorry for them at Wembley in defeat to Man City, even though I wanted City to win, naturally. I think everyone knows what happened, with the Chelsea goalkeeper, whose name I can’t be bothered to look up, refusing to come off when his number went up for substitution near the end of extra time. The lad put himself first and his manager Maurizio Sarri nowhere, showing a total lack of respect for his team-mates in the process. The outcome seemed incredible, but the player remained on the field, and his team duly went on to lose to City, with the young lad (Kepa Arrizabalaga, that’s his name) diving over one he should have saved. Coach Sarri cut a forlorn figure as he followed his defeated team up the Wembley steps, and it’s difficult to say what his future now holds. But it seems fair to say, despite his post-match attempts at smoothing things over, that he was hung out to dry by a young lad who needs to learn, and learn fast, that what the boss says, goes.

A lot of what was missing today at Wembley for Chelsea, quite apart from that vital element of respect for the coach, was a bit of on-field leadership. Now my club, Leeds United – although our squad is infinitely less costly and talented than Chelsea’s – has that quality of leadership in spades, both on and off the field. In the first place, none of our players would even think of defying coach Marcelo Bielsa – and in the second, there’d be no shortage of volunteers to point out, not so gently, the error of his ways to any player daft enough to try it. In today’s game, only David Luiz made some sort of half-hearted attempt to set a young player back onto the straight and narrow, and it wasn’t nearly enough.

A great example of what I’m talking about occurred during yesterday’s win over Bolton. Leeds were awarded a penalty during the first half (check the records if you don’t believe me) and, in the absence of regular spot kick taker Kemar Roofe, there were three contenders to grab the ball. Patrick Bamford was the man who got to it first, but Pablo Hernandez was quite interested, and tyro Tyler Roberts was positively insistent. Roberts was prepared to make an issue of it when, from the back, Luke Ayling came steaming into the area and grabbed Tyler by the scruff of the neck to usher him away and let Bamford get on with it. I’m sure that Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper et al would have intervened if necessary, but Roberts wisely yielded before things got that serious. The penalty was converted, and they all lived happily ever after.

That Elland Road penalty incident didn’t directly involve the coach, but it does demonstrate the importance of players showing some leadership and solidarity on the pitch, when all the manager can do is holler from a hundred yards away above the noise of a 35,000 crowd. On-field leadership is the eleventh commandment as far as football is concerned, and Chelsea grievously lacked it today. The rest of the team, faced with such blatant defiance of the manager, should have been frogmarching their arrogant young keeper off – because once the boss’s authority is compromised, it’s a slippery slope downwards. Luiz apart, the Chelsea players simply stood by and watched. Clearly, some sort of damage limitation script was agreed for the eager Sky interviewers afterwards, but the fact remains that there are big problems at Chelsea, problems that they seem to lack the essential character to deal with.

In the circumstances, I fear for Sarri, whose authority now appears to be shot through. But, for me, he can hold his head up high; the fault lies with a young professional who has set himself in defiance of his boss, as well as the senior professionals, Luiz apart, who failed to enforce their manager’s will on the field. To me, going into a penalty shoot-out just minutes after that scene of disgrace and confusion, Chelsea were certs to lose, and it was no surprise that they did, missing their first penalty and then seeing their rebellious keeper dive over one that he should have saved. Justice was served, it seemed, for everyone except poor Sarri.

Incidentally, this sort of thing has happened before, and in circumstances surprising to those who were so quick to claim that what happened to Sarri would never have happened to Alex Ferguson. Because Ferguson was the Man U manager in 1991, when they faced Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley in the League Cup Final. Les Sealey, since sadly deceased, was the Red Devils keeper, and he sustained a deep knee gash for which they wanted to sub him – but the hotheaded Sealey refused to be subbed, getting almost violent with the member of the coaching staff trying to see him off the pitch. Wednesday went on to win 1-0 with a goal from John Sheridan.

It’s not often that I look at a major final, and at the situation of a major and majorly rich, honour-laden club like Chelsea, and end up with my appreciation of the way my own club is run so greatly enhanced. But it happened today. Chelsea could learn a lot from the way things are done at Leeds – but I wish only the best for their beleaguered coach Maurizio Sarri, whatever fate now has in store for him.

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League Says Play Off Final To Be At Old Trafford If Leeds Are Involved – by Rob Atkinson

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Artist’s impression of Old Toilet should Leeds lose in the play-off final

Readers please note: this April Fools spoof article has now expired.

Any Leeds United fans hoping for an end of season trip to Wembley for the Championship play-off final are likely to be disappointed – even if the Yorkshire giants do progress past the semi-final stage. Following a sensational ruling from the Football League, it is now clear that any final involving Leeds would be played instead at Manchester United’s once-famous Old Trafford stadium. The League have decided that, due to the tense and frantic nature of such a fixture, as well as the legendary volatility of a section of the Leeds support, it would be too much of a risk to have the match played at a still quite nice, shiny, new Wembley Stadium. It is thought, however, that the relatively shabby and delapidated Old Trafford would actually be improved if the Leeds fans did go on the rampage and level the place.

A League spokesperson said, “Nobody should imagine that we are picking on Leeds United here. It’s just a matter of being aware of reputations and acting prudently. We have a similar plan in place for the League One play-offs, should Millwall reach the final. In that event, the match would be played on Hackney Marshes.” Asked whether this policy might affect any domestic final that Leeds reach over the next few years, the spokesperson, Ms. Avril Primero, would only confirm that the situation would be reviewed in the light of circumstances pertaining at the time. “It is possible, however,” added Ms. Primero, “that Leeds United could find themselves playing an FA Cup Final at their own stadium, just like Sheffield United did in that film with Sean Bean.”

Nobody at Leeds was available to comment, although an ex-player who identified himself cryptically as “Batts” stated that he’d “rather not go up at all than play a final at that poxy hole”. 

A further statement clarifying the matter is expected from the Football League tomorrow, April 2nd.

FA Cup 5th Round Preview – Manchester City v Leeds United

Sunday 17 Feb 2:00 pm (Etihad Stadium, Manchester)

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FA Cup 5th Round weekend is where a new ingredient starts to enter the much-vaunted “Romance of the Cup”. After the battles, scrapes and scares at previous stages of this most famous knockout competition, there is at last a genuine whiff of Wembley in the air.

This is much more the case these days of course, than in olden, golden times. Now, the need to accommodate sizeable contingents from all four semi-finalists dictates that the traditional last stop before Wembley is, erm, Wembley. So the 5th Round winners will be potentially a mere 90 minutes from a coveted appearance at the legendary venue. In other words, the competition is hurtling towards crunch time; all the teams that have survived so far can permit themselves a very private dream of ultimate glory, or at least of the chance to perish at the final hurdle in auspicious surroundings.

Still, even at this relatively advanced stage of the competition, there remain giants to be killed, and also minnows, of all sizes, desperate to do the slaying. It was as “minnows” that my beloved Leeds United faced up to their last Cup trip to the North-West, thanks to some ill-advised pre-publicity on Manchester United’s mischievous official website. On that occasion, the underdogs proved that their bite lived up to their bark, and left the then Champions chastened and potless. Now Leeds must return, this time to Manchester City, again as underdogs, again pitted against the Title holders in their own backyard. Can United repeat their unlikely triumph of three years ago, this time against the Blue Mancunian majority? On the face of it, little could be less likely.

Leeds United are after all a club in turmoil, their season so far defined by bitterly disappointing under-achievement. After the long, drawn-out agony of the summer’s takeover saga, which actually dragged into the last couple of shopping days before Christmas, it’s perhaps understandable. But the league programme has been such a damp squib, the football has been so dire, and Neil Warnock, the supposed saviour of twelve months ago, has failed to live up to his promotion-speckled CV. Significantly though, the few bright spots have come in Cup competitions, where progress on two fronts has been embellished by the disposal of three nominal superiors from the Premier League. The most recent and by far the most impressive of these was the defeat of a Bale-powered Tottenham at Elland Road in the last round of the FA Cup. A second-half League Cup capitulation against Chelsea aside, Leeds’ knockout form this season has been rather good.

Manchester City meanwhile, reigning Champions and domestic Galácticos though they may be, look to have stumbled fatally in recent weeks. A run of pallid draws and then an awful capitulation at Southampton last week, and suddenly the gap between them and the Premier League summit is a chilling 12 point chasm. So, City head into the tie against Leeds in rather less than ideal shape. They will not have forgotten that their lowly opponents triumphed at Old Trafford a few short years back; neither will it have escaped them that they suffered a 2-5 reverse, last time these two met in the Cup on City’s patch. But these unwelcome omens may well put The Blues on their mettle, and the fact that their abject last performance so angered manager Roberto Mancini promises to be bad news for Leeds. Whatever the personnel in the Champions’ line-up on Sunday, they should not lack for motivation.

Leeds will expect to be under the cosh, but they have successfully bounced back from limp league performances on several occasions this season already. There has been an air of nonchalant relaxation in their Cup outings; no pressure to gain points towards a play-off berth, no real expectation of anything better than a battling performance and a glorious exit. Against this background, they have compassed the demise of Southampton, Everton and Spurs without ever being seriously troubled, and it will have crossed their minds that a deflated City might just be there for the taking.

There are, then, a number of imponderables that conspire to make this seemingly predictable tie that bit less clear-cut. Leeds will be up for it, and City may find the muck and bullets nature of the midfield battle is not quite to their more refined tastes. But if the Champions can impose their undoubted class early on, Leeds United will face a long and dispiriting afternoon. If, however, City struggle to break down a stubborn Whites defence, then the pressure of their own fans’ frustrations could sap them as the game progresses. In McCormack and Diouf, the Yorkshire giants possess sly and experienced campaigners who are liable to sniff blood and nip in for the kill.

My impartial, unbiased prediction? Well, both these sides owe their supporters after recent hapless performances, so I’ll call the motivation stakes even. My heart goes for a 2-2 draw, and a probably fruitless Elland Road replay. My head says City, possibly by three – and I’ll be happy with that, as long as the lads have put up a fight for the fans and the shirts.

Twist my arm then and I’ll predict, through gritted teeth: Manchester City 4, Leeds United 1