Sir Alex Ferguson will deploy a full-strength side as Leeds United arrive in Manchester for the FA Cup third round tomorrow. The Scot will roll out the big guns for the arrival of the League One leaders from across the Pennines in the most anticipated match between the clubs since Leeds’ relegation from the Premier League in 2004.
Ferguson, who is likely to use youth and fringe players in the Carling Cup against Manchester City midweek, will offer the FA Cup the respect it deserves as United look to dump Leeds out of the competition. With the Scot’s defensive injury crisis now abating, United will again deploy Nemanja Vidic and Wes Brown in central defense ahead of Tomasz Kuszack in goal. Fit-again Gary Neville may come in for Rafael da Silva at right-back despite the Brazilian’s outstanding display against Wigan Athletic last weekend.
In midfield Ferguson may opt to bring in one of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs or Anderson, each of whom missed out against Wigan, while Michael Owen or Dimitar Berbatov will partner the effervescent Wayne Rooney in attack.
It is almost six years since the Yorkshire side last featured at Old Trafford following successive relegations from the Premier League and Championship. But with more than 9,000 Leeds supporters expected in Manchester the tie will be as intense as matches between the sides prior to Leeds’ financial implosion. It is a fact recognised by United’s Scottish midfield general, Darren Fletcher, who will start the match in central midfield on Sunday.
“You do try and stay focused and treat it like any other game but the atmosphere brings it to a point where it can’t happen,” said Fletcher.
“You realise how much it means to the fans because of bragging rights and past rivalries.
“The atmosphere builds up around the ground and you just sense it is not a normal match – and cup tie atmospheres tend to lend themselves to a more frenetic pace at the best of times.”
“You hear about the rivalries with Liverpool and Manchester City but the Leeds one is just as big. The fans sing songs about it. Having played in a couple of the games I can testify as to how fierce it is.”
Despite Leeds’ lengthy absence from top-flight the club still garners the support of more than 30,000 United-hating fans each week, many of whom will make the trek over the Pennines for the match. While the club continues to recover from the £100 million debt-fueled ‘dream’ chased by former Managing Director Peter Ridsdale, the tie provides a taste of the big time that younger supporters will now barely remember.
“I was quite surprised at the intensity of the Leeds games when I first came down here. I didn’t know where they came from,” Ferguson said of the rivalry.
“It emanated from the 1960s when Denis Law used to cause all those problems, punching players. There was that great photograph of Denis with Jack Charlton, Denis’ strip is ripped right off him and they are all piling in.
“So obviously there was some intense feeling back then and I used to say to the players to make sure we behave properly on the pitch. We don’t need to add to the problems and the police obviously had a difficult day.”
A comfortable win for the home side Sunday lunchtime will do much to diffuse any tension.