Euro 2020 Special

‘English Football Classico’: History of the Manchester United – Leeds United Rivalry

Manchester United are set to travel to Elland Road this Sunday to face their historic rivals Leeds United in the Premier League. 

Marcelo Bielsa’s men will be eager to take revenge on the Red Devils at home after getting thrashed 6-2 earlier this season at Old Trafford. 

Dubbed the ‘English Football Classico’ by experts, the fixture is crucial for fans of both teams – not just due to the recent drama surrounding the European Super League, but also as a springboard to rekindle the intense animosity between the clubs.

Here’s our look back at the defining moments of Pennines derby over the decades:


The rivalry between the clubs may have begun a century ago, but the reasons for the animosity trace their origins to the War of the Roses in the 15th century when the House of Lancaster and House of York from either side of the Pennines battled each other over generations for control over the island. Though the war ended, the local allegiances and loyalties did not fade away and they found an outlet to compete in the beautiful game. 

The first fixture between both the teams at Elland Road occurred in 1906 when Leeds City (as the Whites were known before 1919) thrashed Manchester United 3-0. But the Red Devils quickly took revenge at Old Trafford later that year, defeating Leeds 3-1 that sowed the seeds of the rivalry. 

The rivalry moved to the top-flight of the English football pyramid in the 1925/26 season when the Whites gave fierce competition to the Red Devils throughout the interwar period.


Manchester United emerged as a giant in English football after the Second World War, picking up three league titles in the 1950s. The rivalry also showed signs of becoming one-sided – with the Red Devils under Matt Busby boasting of an eleven-game unbeaten run against Leeds. The Whites under Don Revie soon quickly caught up to their rivals and gained a reputation for being a tough and uncompromising side on the field. 

The peak of the rivalry was during the 1964–65 season when the two sides finished at the top of the table with 61 points each, with the trophy being granted to the Manucians on goal difference. 

The rivalry between both sides continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s with Leeds United achieving English and Continental dominance under Revie, defeating the likes of Leeds earned a feared reputation for toppling European sides – including the likes of Juventus and Barcelona. 

Manchester United, meanwhile, were relegated to the second division – leaving the Whites at the top of the rivalry.


The pinnacle of the rivalry occurred in 1977 when the FA Cup semifinal between both teams was officially labelled ‘The Battle of the Roses’. A resurgent Manchester United defeated the Whites 2-1 in the semifinal, but the match was more notable for the violence that accompanied the fixture both inside and outside the stadium. 

Leeds were relegated to the second division in the 1980s. And as Manchester United dominated the top-flight of English football, the rivalry started taking backstage. 

The entry of Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford furthered the chasm in quality between both teams. Leeds United, meanwhile, returned to the top under Howard Wilkinson in 1990 and were able to defeat Manucians in a fierce competition to win the League title for the first time since 1974.

During the season, Leeds faced off with the Red Devils in a famous ‘Winter Trilogy’ of fixtures. 

Manchester came out on top in two of the three games, but Leeds were able to halt the momentum of the Red Devils with a 1-1 draw in the third. 

Reds’ shock signing of Eric Cantona in 1992 in a way both ended Leeds stint as top dogs of Premier League and established Manchester United as one of the best teams on the planet. 


With the golden days of Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson underway, Leeds struggled to keep up with their former rivals. 

They were relegated from the Premier League after the 2003-04 season and spent the last 15 years languishing in the second division. During this period, the two sides have rarely met and Manchester United fans shifted their focus away from Elland Road to Anfield. 

The Red Devils have taken just two League Cup trips to Elland Road since their last Premier League outing there over 17 years ago. Both the fixtures went in favour of the visitors, but Leeds were able to inflict a memorable 1-0 defeat on the Manucians at Old Trafford in 2010.

The entry of Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds completely changed the fortunes of the Whites and they are now one of the most versatile teams in the Premier League. Although they were thrashed 6-2 in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford, Bielsa’s men have improved their form – defeating the likes of Manchester City in recent weeks.  

Fans at Elland Road will be eagerly hoping for revenge and the old flame of rivalry is likely to be rekindled on Sunday.


Total Matches Played: 108

Manchester United Wins: 47

Leeds United Wins: 26

Drawn: 35




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