Opinion: Why Leeds is the perfect pre-season opener

Wednesday 12 July 2023 07:00

As a Mancunian fan of Manchester United, there are few matches that get me as as fired up and anxious as playing against Leeds does.

As I'm sure you'll know, there aren't many historic rivalries in football that run as deep as the two roses of Lancashire and Yorkshire going head to head.

At 17, I'm not really old enough to fully gauge the fierce rivalry my dad and his generation encountered and have since told us story after story about. Hearing about the classic clashes excited me but nothing could really prepare me for the intensity of the Reds finally getting to play Leeds again in 2020/21. Being inside the walls of Elland Road, I could finally attest to the sheer magnitude of this fixture and the powerful hold it had on both sets of fans.

The players clearly felt it too. Even during lockdown, watching Scott McTominay celebrate his early goals in our 6-2 home win over Leeds was joyous. And when the fans were back, you could feel the energy reverberating round Old Trafford as each tackle went in. You could tell the players knew what it meant to be involved in the games.

After experiencing Leeds home and away first hand, the same feelings my dad had towards our rivals were now set in stone within me. But the same passion that made meetings between the clubs so special almost made me feel a bit sad our opponents have been relegated from the Premier League again. A captivating fixture, one that helped define my indelible love for watching and being a part of United, may not come around for years. After today, that is.

Such a fixture is the perfect way to kick off pre-season. The young players Erik ten Hag has taken to Oslo can really step up and take it into their own hands to represent Manchester United and start writing their own stories in the first team by making their mark against Leeds. It's games like this one which can help supporters see who is cut out to be a United player and who might be the next cult hero.

This is exactly why, despite it being billed as a pre-season friendly, it's more than that. It's a showcase for talent and skill, yes. But it's also a chance for players to demonstrate an understanding of the club's DNA and prove they have the commitment, passion and pride to play for our club. It's games like this that set them up for the season ahead, so every pass, every tackle and every goal will count.

The new season awaits for not only these players but for fans too. Fortunately, I'm able to be writing this from inside the walls of Old Trafford, overlooking the trinity statue and from here, I can feel the energy permeating through the stadium. A sense of optimism is in the air, and I eagerly anticipate the start of a fresh campaign. With ruthless Ten Hag at the wheel, and a new discipline and fight instilled back into the club as a whole, I have this sparkling sense of hope ahead of 2023/24.

Highlights: United 6 Leeds 2 Video

Highlights: United 6 Leeds 2

The last time we played Leeds, the two sides shared eight goals between them...

At one stage, not too long ago, my friends and I would despise talking about the position United were in, and the struggles we were going through. You'd go to the pub and everyone would sheepishly frown when football was brought up.

Now it's different. Not only do we have a team spirit and a proper connection between the players and fans again but for young fans like me, there is a chance we get to see the birth of a new era and new narratives. Something we haven't been fortunate enough to see before.

To be able to enjoy the raw emotion that takes over as I walk up the steps of the N3 car park to my beloved home from home means everything. To finally be able to relish talking about the rollercoaster ride Ten Hag is taking us on in pubs, bars, at parties or over lunch with a friend is what being a part of United is.

Highlights: Leeds v United Video

Highlights: Leeds v United

Savour the best moments from our blood-and-thunder encounter with Leeds at Elland Road...

The best part about it? It all links back to games like today's against Leeds. A pre-season friendly, something that is seemingly so passive on the surface, can really set the tone for the whole season ahead. Today, Ten Hag's men embark on another journey towards glory, driven by the relentless spirit and purpose Manchester United gives us all.

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.


Our first pre-season game will be shown live on MUTV, ManUtd.com and the United App with coverage starting at 15:00 BST, one hour before kick-off. Ensure you're ready for all the action by subscribing now.