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MEMORIES

Remembering Leeds United’s return to the Champions League under Marcelo Bielsa in 2020

If you think we're going to get carried away after two league games... then you'd be absolutely right!

These days Leeds are once again a well-established powerhouse of English football.

But older readers will remember the 15 seasons they spent outside the top flight between 2004 and 2019.

The Yorkshire club famously stormed the Premier League upon their return to the promised land, finishing 4th in 2019/20 under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa.

Many fans will recall their dramatic Champions League campaign the season after, but for those with unreliable memories, let’s revisit the best moments…

Happier times

PA:Press Association
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Happier times

A raucous Elland Road welcomed Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba and co as Leeds hosted the mighty Barcelona in their first group game.

All the pre-game hype concerned the first meeting of Samuel Saiz and Gerard Pique following Shakira’s decision to divorce the Barca defender before marrying Leeds’ creator-in-chief just days later.

The South Stand’s merciless treatment of Pogba (due to his ties with Man United) rattled the Frenchman from the off and the La Liga giants failed to retain possession as a result.

James Milner, who rejoined Leeds in the summer of 2020, picked Pogba’s pocket on the halfway line before beating Marc-Andre ter Stegen with a 25-yard thunderbolt.

Under Bielsa’s stricty instructions, Leeds exhibited superhuman pressing to contain a frustrated Barca side and completed a historic 1-0 win.

Awkward…

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Awkward…

Barry Douglas was named as Man of the Match for pocketing Messi.

After the game, the legendary No10 said: “From now on, I will call him [Douglas] the Scottish Maldini.

“I made sure to swap shirts with him at end and I will frame it in my house. What a player.”

MISSING: Last seen wedged between Barry Douglas’ wallet and keys

Reuters
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MISSING: Last seen wedged between Barry Douglas’ wallet and keys

A record-number of English fans descended upon Leipzig for the club’s first European away day in twenty years.

RB Leipzig were owned by Red Bull at the time (much like Chelsea are today) and so Leeds fans tossed hundreds of cans of Monster energy drink onto the pitch seconds after kick-off.

The club were fined as a result although a UEFA spokesman did admit he thought it was ‘pretty funny, to be fair’.

Fabian Delph and Samu Saiz scored either side of half time to ensure six points from their first two group games.

Both fans sang a chorus of ‘Ten North Korean Bombers’

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Both fans sang a chorus of ‘Ten North Korean Bombers’

The Whites then welcomed Inter Milan to Yorkshire on Matchday 3.

England No1 Bailey peacock-Farrell produced a masterclass to deny Mauro Icardi in three one-on-one situations as the visitors enjoyed the better of the first half.

However, the game changed dramatically after Ivan Perisic was sent off for reacting to Luke Ayling’s street smarts (multiple stamps).

Patrick Bamford twice converted Douglas crosses before England youth sensation Ryan Edmundson latched on to Lewis Baker’s disguised througball to make it 3-0 in injury time.

The image of Bielsa allowing a single tear of happiness to splash upon his upturned bucket, with a deafening rendition of ‘Marching on Together’ echoing around him, is as iconic as it gets in Champions League history.

Sales of buckets were up 800% compared to now. Although to be fair, plastic was still legal…

Reuters
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Sales of buckets were up 800% compared to now. Although to be fair, plastic was still legal…

Leeds progressed to the round of 16 as runners-up behind Barcelona and were rewarded with a tie against Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli.

Tyler Roberts’ Thierry Henry-esque finish silenced the Naples crowd within ten minutes and a classic Bielsa exhibition allowed the visitors to control the game.

A feverish Elland Road witnessed a tense 0-0 with Peacock-Farrell saving a 85th-minute penalty from Lorenzo Insigne to complete the job.

Bielsa was not present in the second leg as his knighthood ceremony was scheduled for the same evening.

Photoshop? What is Photoshop?

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Photoshop? What is Photoshop?

The January transfer window featured Bielsa recruiting some of his past favourites.

Alexis Sanchez, Javi Martinez and Michy Batshuayi all jumped at the chance to work under the Argentine tactician once more.

All three were added to Leeds’ Champions League squad in time for a mouthwatering quarter-final against Pep Guardiola’s Man City.

The tie was billed as Bielsa v Guardiola and the two influential managers did not disappoint…

Sanchez. Bielsa. Realistic.

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Sanchez. Bielsa. Realistic.

Elland Road hosted a thrilling 3-3 draw for the ages, with Sanchez’s last-gasp volley regular featuring in discussions of the greatest ever goal.

Delph and Milner’s synchronised kissing of the Leeds badge in front of the away end at full-time appeared to guarantee an appropriate sequel…

However, the return leg failed to live up to the hype, with both teams visibly drained by the demands of their intense coaches.

Michy Batshuayi capitalised on Aymeric Laporte’s sloppy error to ensure a memorable smash-and-grab.

He later tweeted a GIF of him performing the Leeds salute but somebody had edited it to make it look like he was punching Man City players — it remains the most retweeted tweet ever to this day.

Onto the semi-finals…

Nothing silly, NOTHING SILLY!

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Nothing silly, NOTHING SILLY!

They don’t get much bigger than Real Madrid when it comes to European knockout opponents.

Leeds took a kicking in the first leg with Sergio Ramos and Casemiro leaving Saiz, Douglas, Sanchez and Milner requiring extensive treatment.

However, ‘dirty Leeds’ travelled to the Bernabeu with Pontus Jansson forcing Ramos off after clattering him at the first corner.

The talismanic Swede then took it too far with an elbow to Harry Kane and was rightly dismissed after the referee consulted VAR.

Isco, Marco Asensio and Kylian Mbappe took advantage of the extra space and, just like in 2001, Leeds were eliminated by a Spanish opponent at the semi-final stage.

Still, what a journey.

Bet you didn’t think you’d see a photo of sad Erik Bakke today

EPA
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Bet you didn’t think you’d see a photo of sad Erik Bakke today

Yep, that all definitely happened.

Leeds definitely did not suffer from fatigue and drop out of the play-off spots in the second half of the 2018/19 season…


MORE INSANE RAMBLINGS?