Leeds United is back in the Premier League for the first time in 16 years, but how will the club approach its rivalry with Chelsea?
Since Leeds United’s relegation from the Premier League in the 2003/04 season, it has faced off against Chelsea only once. That 5-1 Blues slaughter of the Yorkshire side in the 2012/13 FA Cup felt like a regular match, not a rivalry, between clubs that share a violent and passionate hatred for one another.
The Chelsea-Leeds rivalry dates back to the 1960s and ’70s when hooliganism was at its peak in England. Fans heightened the rivalry with clashes on the streets, but the on-pitch battles were just as intense. Now, Leeds is back in the English top flight for the first time in nearly two decades. Although it’s seemingly fashionable to hate Leeds if you support any other club, the rivalry has undoubtedly dwindled. The two sides will meet twice next season, but how will they greet one another?
Regardless of whether or not fans are in the stadiums, Chelsea and Leeds will be out for blood in each league meeting . The fixtures are ones to circle on the calendar and to take off work for. Although the spite for one another has faded, the figures at the helm of each club have the potential to spark a renewed rivalry. After all, Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa and Chelsea manager Frank Lampard don’t exactly see eye-to-eye after their short—but storied—history.
Lampard’s Derby team was spied on by a Bielsa staffer last season during training, in the thick of the two clubs fighting for promotion. Ultimately, neither found its way up, but Lampard was given his opportunity in the top flight through Chelsea. As one can imagine, the incident didn’t sit well with the English manager. He insists he still has respect for the Argentine, but questioned his receiving of a fair play award. This sort of narrative births a more deeply-rooted loathing between two immortal figures of historic clubs.
Further, Leeds fans voted Chelsea as the club’s No. 2 most hated rival. The Yorkshire club hasn’t beaten the Blues since December 2002 and while the wait to get into the Premier League is over, the longing for a victory over Chelsea remains. Many have forgotten the famed 1970 FA Cup Final—the height of the rivalry—but the resentment still runs deep for the London club.
The decline of hooliganism, more strictly-enforced rules and Coronavirus—in the present—will result in the rivalry being approached with more level heads. However, the seeds of a long-time, everlasting hatred have been planted. The rivalry will outlast the spells of two legendary managers, but to discount their importance would mean turning a blind eye to history.
Welcome back to the Premier League, Leeds. As one of England’s biggest clubs, you deserve to be here. But to achieve anything in this division, one must come through Stamford Bridge. The fortress and its faithful will not react kindly to seeing a long-lost enemy stumbling to its gates in the coming months; be prepared for a lengthy clash with one of your most despised foes.