When Chelsea travel to Elland Road in the Premier League for the first time since December 2003, they will resume hostilities with one of their fiercest rivals.
The animosity between the two sides dates back to the 1960s, with one particularly aggressively fought FA Cup final in 1970 etched into the memories of long-time supporters.
Chelsea won the replay 2-1 after a 2-2 draw in the initial encounter, but it has since been dubbed the “most brutal game” in the history of English football.
Although they are fierce rivals, perhaps Leeds and Chelsea have more in common than they would care to admit.
United by Ambition, Separated by Fate
Both teams punched above their weight in the late 1990s and early 2000s as they signed big-name players in a bid to keep pace with Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Both ultimately accumulated severe debt. Had it not been for one Roman Abramovich, perhaps both would have suffered the same fate.
As it turned out, when Chelsea last travelled to Elland Road in a Premier League fixture, the teams were heading in starkly contrasting directions. Chelsea were in their first season under Abramovich and would go on to finish second in the Premier League to Arsenal’s Invincibles and make the UEFA Champions semi-finals. The following two seasons, they would win the league title at a canter under José Mourinho.
Leeds were relegated from the Premier League in 2004 and did not bounce back until 2020.
Ironically, Ken Bates, who sold Chelsea to Abramovich, bought a 50% stake in Leeds United in 2005. He would later become the sole owner before selling his holdings to GFH Capital in November 2012.
Hated, Adored, Never Ignored
Leeds were once the team that everyone loved to hate. In the Abramovich era, Chelsea have generally been the proud holders of that title, while Leeds have won admirers under Marcelo Bielsa. Still, these are two clubs who know the meaning of “us against the world”.
José Mourinho’s powerful Chelsea side in his first stint as manager and their gamesmanship had echoes of Don Revie’s famous “dirty Leeds”.
The ties between the two clubs go deeper still. Both have struggled with certain unsavoury elements within their support. Furthermore, several players past and present have links to both clubs.
Former Chelsea youngster Patrick Bamford’s success at Leeds will not irk Blues supporters quite as much as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s move to Chelsea once did.
Last year, Lucas Radebe recalled to ESPN how he spent a whole game kicking his good friend, simply because the bond they built up while teammates at Leeds could not match Radebe’s desire to do his job with honour against a great rival of his beloved Leeds.
There could hardly be a better metaphor for the rivalry between Chelsea and Leeds. They may claim to loathe each other and say they wish one another nothing but the worst. Still, deep down, there is a bond which ties even the fiercest of football enemies together.
Make no mistake about it: Chelsea and Leeds have missed each other, and deep down, both sets of fans would love Saturday’s clash to be just as fiercely fought as the good old days.