In the enforced absence of the 2019/20 season, Manchester United legend Gary Neville was part of Sky Sports’ dive into nostalgia on Monday night.
MNF Retro took in a clash between Leeds United and Liverpool, and Neville commented on the nature of the rivalries between the sides.
He made an important distinction – which may have been forgotten by some as Leeds have been out of the top flight since 2004.
We feel Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – who faced Leeds many times as a player – is building a side who will understand and relish the hostility of this historic rivalry whenever it resumes on a regular basis.
More brutal than Liverpool?
On Sky Sports, Neville said of the rivalry with Leeds: “It was brutal when we went to Leeds, even more brutal than going to Liverpool.
“The rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United was huge but the rivalry with Leeds was almost a deep hatred.
“There’s a little bit of respect between United and Liverpool but with Leeds there was a real nastiness – like they would come onto the pitch if they could.”
Why is the rivalry different?
For a generation of United fans, this is a rivalry which they have not seen.
Younger Reds may feel greater animosity with Manchester City, because of the proximity between the clubs – but also the way they have battled for trophies in the past decade.
But the two clubs have come together at various times, such as the 40th anniversary of the Munich disaster in 2008 or after the Manchester terror attack of 2017. There is respect there.
There won’t be a Leeds fan raised in the time they have been outside the Premier League who hasn’t been made aware of that hatred of United.
The clashes were always incredibly spiky when the sides were in the top flight, especially at Elland Road.
Perhaps Leeds fans now feel United have too many tourist fans, and they are forever insistent on proving they’re the best supporters in the UK.
Their absence from the top flight has done nothing to diminish the animosity and their win at Old Trafford in 2010 is still a legendary moment in the Whites’ modern history.
Solskjaer will hammer home importance
Solskjaer probably referenced United’s past too often when he was interim manager.
But his knowledge of the club can only help him pass on the importance of its historic rivalries.
That’s especially true in the case of Leeds, where many players among the current crop may not quite understand the scale and animosity of it.
The two Premier League derby day performances and the home display against Liverpool indicate Solskjaer is able to get the message across.
Whenever United next travel to Elland Road for a Premier League game, the manager will have to make it crystal clear that the match will be tetchy, fiery and uncomfortable.
On that score, there’s no better man for the job than Solskjaer and the signs are he is building a team fit for the challenge.
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