The Chelsea vs Leeds Rivalry Explained

When one thinks about Chelsea and rivalry in the same sentence, they automatically thinks of Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur. One would not so easily think of Leeds United, even though the Chelsea and Leeds rivalry is quite brutal.

More questions arise when you take into account the distance between the two clubs are about 200 miles apart, with Leeds in Yorkshire and Chelsea in London. The two sides have not even played each other as much in the past 15 years, the rivalry remains bitter still.

Early Years

The rivalry dates back as early as the 1960s, a period when the two clubs had bounced back to the top division of English football.

In the 1962/63 season, Chelsea and Leeds were among the teams in a tight battle to secure a place in the First Division for the next season. Chelsea finished second, a point behind Stoke City, earning promotion. Leeds finished fifth but joined Chelsea in the First Division in the 1964/65 season after winning the Second Division title.

The season Leeds joined the First Division, both clubs finished in the top four of the table – Leeds in second, Chelsea third. Leeds and Chelsea were in a three-way fight to the title with Manchester United. Leeds and Manchester United finished level on points, but the Red Devils won the title on goal difference. The following seasons, Leeds finished ahead of Chelsea in the First Division consecutively until 1974/75, when Chelsea got relegated to the second tier.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Leeds were quite the team. They won the First Division in the 1968/69 and 1973/74 seasons. Ron Devie’s team was difficult to face, as they played beautiful football with a brutality that was hard to succeed against. So much so that they earned the nickname ‘dirty Leeds’ as they were often considered nasty, unfair and unpopular in the league.

Leeds and Chelsea were polar opposites on the outside. The two clubs represent different regions of England with distinct cultural identities. Chelsea, with its wealthy London base, and Leeds United, representing a working-class city, symbolized different social backgrounds and economic realities. This created a large rift among the fanbase. So much so, that in the 1982/83 season in Division Two, there were more than 200 arrests made around the fixture at Stamford Bridge.

On the pitch, however, is when the two sides almost mirrored each other. Chelsea was unafraid to match Leeds’ brutality, and both played brilliant football. Whenever the two sides met, the pitch was a battlefield for their never-ending war.

English Football’s Most Brutal Game

The 1970 FA Cup final is considered the most brutal game in English football history. After the game ended 2-2 at Wembley, a replay was necessary. The replay was played at another one at Old Trafford, the venue of Leeds’ other close rivals, Manchester United. With Leeds’ brutality and Chelsea’s ability to match up to it, alongside their already existing rivalry, the replay exuded animosity.

The game has since been re-refereed by leading officials according to modern interpretations of the rules. In 1997 six red cards would have been shown by David Elleray, while in 2020 Michael Oliver said he would give 11. But on the actual day of the game, only one yellow card was shown.

The Whites started the game well, heading into the second half with a 1-0 lead. Chelsea grew into the game and equalized following a grave error from Leeds goalkeeper David Harvey. Just like in the first game, when the final whistle was blown the two sides were level. However, early into extra time, Chelsea’s David Webb scored the winning goal.

Is It Still a Rivalry?

The Chelsea vs Leeds rivalry went on for years. However, Leeds was relegated from the Premier League in May 2004 after a 1-0 loss to the Blues, ironically.

In the following years, the Whites went through a tough period. It was so tough, they even dropped down to the third tier. Their struggle was prolonged, and they only finally earned promotion to the Premier League in 2020. It was then that the two sides first met following Leeds’ relegation back in 2004.

Chelsea and Leeds shared a thrilling game in late 2021, with five goals being scored at Stamford Bridge. True to fashion, seven cards were shown in that game. Leeds took the lead in the 28th minute with a Raphina penalty, but a Mason Mount equalizer came in shortly before the first half ended.

Chelsea was the first to score in the second half, with a Jorginho penalty. Leeds scored an equalizer with seven minutes of normal time remaining. Antonio Rüdiger was fouled during stoppage time, and all eyes were on Jorginho as he had another penalty to take. The Italian did not miss, and Chelsea won the game 3-2.

In their recent fixtures sine their return in 2020, Leeds has only beaten the Blues once. In the 2022/23 season, Leeds won 3-0 at Elland Road in August. However, in the return fixture at Stamford Bridge, Wesley Fofana scored in 1-0 win.

Chelsea and Leeds most recent fixture was earlier this year in the fifth round of the FA Cup. It was another thrilling fixture between the two sides. Leeds got a goal in as early as the eighth minute, but seven minutes later, Nicolas Jackson found the back of the net too. Mykhalio Mudryk scored towards the end of the first half, and Leeds’ Mateo Joseph completed a brace. Conor Gallagher went on to score the winner for the Blues in the 90th minute, taking his side to the next round.

The fixture may not be as intense as it once was. However, as recent fixtures have shown, do not count out the chance of an exciting game whenever the two sides meet.

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