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This fixture was originally scheduled for Boxing Day but an Omicron outbreak amongst the Leeds playing and coaching staff (plus a few injuries) meant that the game had to be postponed. I don’t doubt that Leeds had cases, and they were certainly hampered by injuries at the time, but they also took advantage of the lack of clarity and consistency with the Premier League’s rules over the impact of the coronavirus and its new variant. The Premier League had stated that each club’s request for postponement would be judged on its individual merits but some clubs almost certainly took the piss. Postponing games due to Covid and injuries in order to buy time and buy reinforcements in the January window so that by the time the rearranged fixtures come round, you’ve had time to regroup and strengthen? You would not put it past the clubs, such is the amoral money-grabbing ethos the Premier League has allowed to fester. Anyway: Crispness. Accuracy. Rhythm. Effort. Luck. Effervescence. Speed. Skill. Heart. Audacity. Nous. Drive. Spark. I don’t ask for much. Last season’s corresponding fixture took place on the opening day of the season with Liverpool as defending league champions. A game of attacking intensity and defensive slackness from both sides saw Leeds eventually succumb to a late penalty from Mo that enabled him to complete his hat-trick. Leeds had given a good account of themselves and the game was a microcosm of their season as a whole. They could be electric or slapdash. There wasn’t much middle ground. New Years Day 1991 saw this fixture take place at noon. Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds had been promoted back to the top flight the previous summer, and a good group of players would comfortably finish in the top half of the table in 1990/91. They’d go and claim the title itself the following year, the last one before the advent of the Premier League. For now though, they were visiting the defending league champions, who themselves were going toe to toe with Arsenal. Leeds were no match for the Reds, with an early goal from Barnesy with a shot from a narrow angle being added to before half time by the Israeli Milan Baros, Ronny Rosenthal, somewhat fortuitously after his shot from the edge of the area cannoned off the far post and bounced into the net of the diving John Lukic. Rushie added the icing on the cake late in the second half with a third goal (thanks to a serious turn of pace from Rosenthal), and Liverpool (with Kenny as manager) were doing well. The goals are just after the 46-minute mark in this video. The big box office smash on New Year’s Day 1991 is one of the best Christmas movies of all time. Home Alone made Macaulay Culkin a star and showed Joe Pesci could do roles that weren’t a tough guy character in a Scorsese picture. Pesci and Daniel Stern are an absolute revelation as the hapless ‘Wed Bandits’ burglary duo, thwarted by a kid protecting his own home by turning it into a torture device that probably inspired Jigsaw. Increasingly elaborate and painful traps are set for Harry and Marv as they try to get the better of the pesky kid. Marv’s scream when the tarantula is on his face is cinematic gold! Culkin’s Kevin McAllister still gets time to shine as the kid enjoying junk food, aping noir crime capers to prank pizza delivery guys, having a run in with after shave, and overcoming his fear of his basement and his next door neighbour. Just being a kid enjoying total freedom, basically. There plenty of Christmas message to be shared, about the importance of family etc. The McAllister family generally treat Kevin like the runt of the litter, and don’t realise in their haste that they forgotten about him completely when dashing to the airport for the family holiday to Paris. To be fair to Kevin’s mother, played by Catherine O’Hara, she does a great job of playing the mother desperate to get home and make sure her son is safe and well. We even get a cameo from the late great John Candy. The sequel was pretty good and upped the ante when it came to elaborate traps for the newly named ‘Sticky Bandits’, but it relied a little too much on the preposterous notion of a kid easily able to turn both a room in a 5-star New York hotel, plus some random brownstone in the middle of an extensive renovation, into places where he could both enjoy the high life and mess around with Harry and Marv. This game has the potential to be a banana skin as it’s just a few days before the League Cup final. Klopp and his staff, plus the players, have generally been very good at keeping focussed on the job at hand, and that is what they need to do here. It’s not about closing the gap to City at the top, and it’s not about protection yourself ahead of the Wembley showpiece. It’s about the right attitude and application to claim 3 more points. That’s all any league game should be about. Do the right things, have belief and claim 3 points. Full focus is the key to that.
The end of the international break sees a return to 3 games in a week, and as it's us, some players returning injured from international duty. That shit happens every year, it's like clockwork. That our first game back is on Sunday afternoon at least gives some of our players a bit of a breather before the intensity ramps up again. Last season's corresponding fixture finished 1-1 with Jota's second half strike being cancelled out by a later leveller from Leeds defender Llorente. We were going through a spell of not taking enough of our chances before getting sucker-punched, but it was an improvement on the January-February-March slump where we hardly created anything at times. With that said: Tenacity. Ruthlessness. Obduracy. Understanding. Bravado. Liberty. Efficiency. Accuracy. Technique. Tactical know-how. Movement. Ingenuity. Longevity. Legs. I don't ask for much. Cast your minds back to mid-April 1991. We'd been generally pretty good up to February, but then that Everton game happened and pretty much unravelled the whole club. We were suddenly rudderless, had a lot of questionable signings like Carter and Speedie in the squad, Rosenthal was looking like a flash-in-the-pan after making his move permanent, the midfield were nowhere near as effective a unit as they'd been over the past few years. But the biggest issues were at the back. Hansen's sudden retirement after Kenny's resignation left us looking completely disorganised at the back. Grobbelaar and Nicol were becoming increasingly erratic. Hysen not only looked like a Saga advert model but started playing like one. Guys like Ablett, Staunton and Burrows were very inconsistent. As a collective, they were simply unable to cope with any sort of aerial bombardment, and Leeds had players who could take advantage. And yet the game began so well. We were carving Leeds open at will in the first half and raced into a 4-0 lead inside half an hour thanks to Houghton, Molby, Speedie and Barnes. We looked great again. The second half was a different story, largely because our defence couldn't handle Leeds' Brexit-faced goal poacher Lee Chapman. He got a hat-trick and Carl Shutt got another, but thankfully Barnes had already got his second of the match so Leeds never actually got themselves level at any point. A proper game of two halves, and the two sides would have differing fortunes the following season. Liverpool would win the FA Cup but they were a shadow of the team from the club's 80s heyday. Leeds though would go and grab the last league championship before the Premier League era. Their team that year had a smattering of good-but-not-great plus a few journeymen, but as a unit they proved extremely effective. Lukic in goal; Sterland, Fairclough, Whyte and Dorigo at the back; Gary Mac and Batty in the centre of midfield with captain Strachan and Gary Speed offering width; and a front line of Chapman and Rod Wallace, later supplemented by the arrival of French quasi-philosopher and all-round headcase Eric Cantona. They were Leicester under Ranieri. Number one movie? With these box-office additions I've noticed that the site I'm getting the info from looks at the US box office. Top of the pile in mid-April 1991 was Steven Seagal actioner Out For Justice. It's titled like a second-tier actioner (ie, one that didn't star Arnie, Bruce or Sly), and the plot synopsis reads like a second-tier actioner - the grizzled cop looking to avenge his partner's brutal murder by some typical gangsters. I've never seen it but it sounds like any number of other films I have seen. I was just thinking of how many Seagal-headlined films I've actually watched, and I can only think of a couple of Under Siege films. He might have done more than two of them, but I can't remember. He's like Van Damme, Lundgren or Chuck Norris. They've all got an extensive back catalogue, most of which I've never been arsed to watch. Seagal only ever has one facial expression no matter what emotion he's supposed to be portraying. Anyway, Dirty Leeds (have to drop that reference once at least). They aren't actually that dirty these days, and last season proved to be a highly entertaining watch. Bielsa's teams generally are. They've lost attacking left-sided defender (or was he a midfielder, or maybe a forward?) Alioski, but added Junior Firpo from Barcelona. I remember Firpo being linked with us back when Moreno was the first-choice left back with Milner as the alternative. Betis wanted something like £20m for a Spanish U21, so that was never happening. Firpo was a bit-part player at the Nou Camp, failing to displace Jordi Alba, but I would think he should be a regular starter under Bielsa. Leeds can be dangerous, but we can be even more dangerous. We have a glamour tie with Milan a few days later but the players and staff should give the Leeds match the right focus, preparation and determination. Do that, put them under siege, don't put ourselves on deadly ground, get our executive decision right and make sure we leave with the 3 points and without any exit wounds.