Tuesday night sees the first round of the EFL Cup kicking off, and the match between Salford City and Leeds United promises to be one of the most gripping encounters.
Salford City are owned by Manchester United legends such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, and given United’s fraught history with Leeds, the EFL clash promises to be an emotionally charged affair.
Salford City – Football’s newest success story
Although Salford City were founded in 1940, they have remained in the shadow of the city’s footballing titans – Manchester City and Manchester United. However, 2014 saw the club taken over by ex-Manchester United stars including the likes of Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt. This was followed up by David Beckham buying a 10% share in the club in 2019.
Ever since this high-profile takeover, Salford City have catapulted up the football league tables to the point when they secured a place in the English football league after a momentous National League play-off final where they beat Fylde 3-0.
There’s been no shortage of attention laid on the Salford City team since they gained admittance to the football league. Graham Alexander’s team started off their League Two campaign in fine style with a 2-0 home win against Stevenage thanks to a brace of goals from Emmanuel Dieseruvwe.
Things came unstuck last Saturday when Salford lost 2-0 away to Crawley Town, but it’s clear that any visitor to Salford’s Moor Lane ground is going to have a difficult time. Manager Graham Alexander apologised to the club’s supporters for a performance against Crawley that ‘wasn’t good enough’, and he’s expected to make some significant changes ahead of the team’s biggest-ever match against Leeds.
The Class of 92 aiming to take Salford City sky high
With four successive promotions, there’s plenty of ambition at Salford City, and it’s the so-called ‘Class of ’92’ who are spearheading the challenge. Paul Scholes has already gone on record as saying that getting Salford City into the Premier League will be a target at some point.
Whilst such a statement sounds far-fetched, it’s important to remember that Bournemouth are now a relatively consistent Premier League team who had an average home attendance of little over 10,000 last season.
Salford had home crowds of just a couple of hundred people when the Class of 92 took over the club. But there were more than 3,000 fans packed into Moor Lane for their first Football League appearance, and it’s sure to be a capacity crowd when they entertain Leeds United on Tuesday night.
Alongside the owners’ experience and enthusiasm, they have also managed to get the money rolling in for Salford City. With a new five-year sponsorship deal with TalkTalk, the team should be able to sidestep many of the financial struggles that have blighted other lower league sides.
Leeds United aiming to live up to the hype
Marcelo Bielsa’s team will still be feeling bitter about having failed to get promoted to the Premier League last season. Leeds were on-course for automatic promotion for much of the season, but their shocking 4-2 play-off semi-final defeat at the hands of Derby County saw them consigned to playing Championship football for another season.
Leeds were widely tipped to win the Championship this season, but they quickly ran into problems in their first match of the campaign. Bielsa’s team were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Nottingham Forest, and Leeds players like Patrick Bamford were particularly disappointing in not putting home decent goalscoring chances.
In addition to this, old problems reemerged with Leeds proving to be weak in defending against set-pieces, and Marcelo Bielsa will be keen to avoid an embarrassment against Salford City on Tuesday night. It’s widely expected that Luke Ayling and Tyler Roberts will sit out the EFL Cup clash, whilst we should see the likes of Eddie Nketiah hoping to make amends for a limited Leeds attack.
The ongoing rivalry between Leeds and Manchester United
Although Leeds United have been stuck in the Championship for the past few seasons, it seems that it hasn’t dimmed their rivalry with Manchester United. The Roses rivalry is one of football’s bitterest feuds, and the intensity boiled over into violence during the ugly hooliganism of the 1970s.
With Leeds United enjoying plenty of success in top-flight football during the 1990s, battles between these two clubs were never far away from the headlines. But ever since Leeds were relegated from the Premier League in 2004, there haven’t been too many encounters.
However, this summer saw a preseason friendly between Leeds United and Manchester United in Perth, Australia. The match was comfortably won by Manchester United 4-0, but there were plenty of simmering tensions to suggest that the Roses rivalry hasn’t withered away just yet.
Leeds fans may still be harbouring a grudge for the fact that Alan Smith signed to Manchester United in 2004, or it may just be a longstanding rivalry that was born centuries ago in the War of the Roses. But whatever the source of the feud, it seems that Salford City could be a new target for Leeds United fans to vent their anger towards.
Other key EFL matches to take a note of
The match between Leeds United and Salford is just one of 35 games that take place in the first round of the EFL Cup. Other intriguing matches include tough local clashes between the likes of Blackburn Rovers against Oldham Athletic, Rochdale versus Bolton Wanderers, and Grimsby Town against Doncaster Rovers.
Such clashes hardly live up to the glamour of Premier League football, and the EFL Cup is eclipsed by the likes of the FA Cup. But such tournaments are hugely important to smaller teams, and with the chance of the winners being able to play Europa League football the following season, it can always throw up some fireworks.
Whilst all eyes will be on the game between Leeds and Salford on Tuesday night, there are a few other games that suggest that some big upsets could occur. We’ve already seen lowly Portsmouth dispatching the Championship team Birmingham City 3-0, and there could be similar results when Tranmere Rovers entertain Hull City, or when Wycombe Wanderers host Reading.
But ultimately, the early rounds of the EFL Cup are all about trying to spot when the next big giant killing act could happen. Scunthorpe United will definitely fancy their chances against Derby County, although the Championship team will have to wait until 2020 for to Wayne Rooney join their ranks as player-coach.
Similarly, League Two team Bradford City will have everything to prove when they host Preston North End, and another Championship team, Brentford will have to avoid embarrassment when they entertain Cambridge United.
Plus with intriguing Championship clashes like West Bromwich Albion taking on Millwall, QPR playing Bristol City, and Wigan Athletic hosting Stoke City, it promises to be an explosive start to this season’s EFL Cup.