uefa.com gives its mid-term report on UEFA Cup contenders Leeds United AFC.
After winning many friends during their splendid run to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals last season, Leeds United AFC are only looking to win trophies this term, and the UEFA Cup offers them an excellent chance of doing so.
Element of surprise
Leeds, who are gearing themselves up for a new year push for their first FA Premiership title in a decade, may be without the element of surprise that saw them eliminate the likes of RC Deportivo La Coruña and FC Barcelona from the Champions League last season, but they still have the collective spirit and individual brilliance to test any of their leading competitors in the UEFA Cup, a competition they were semi-finalists in two years ago.
Yet to spark
Manager David O'Leary, the former Arsenal FC and Republic of Ireland defender, would readily admit his charges have yet to truly find their spark this season. A case in point is Australian international Harry Kewell. So disappointed was O'Leary with the displays of the left winger that he said the Yorkshire club's fans had "not seen the best of him this season in any way" prior to the second leg of the club's third-round tie with Grasshopper-Club.
'Spirit and camaraderie'
Days later Kewell scored a wonder goal at Elland Road stadium that sent Leeds on their way to a 2-2 draw, an overall 4-3 victory and a place in the last 16. Kidology or not, O'Leary is well versed in getting the best out of his side, recently calling on them to show the "togetherness, spirit and camaraderie" that dragged them through last season despite a crippling injury list.
Opened with defeat
Missing a number of key players, Leeds opened their campaign with a 1-0 defeat by CS Marítimo on the island of Madeira. After saving face with a comfortable 3-0 victory in the return leg - Robbie Keane, Kewell and Eirik Bakke on target - observers must have been wondering which Leeds side would turn up for the second-round encounter with Espérance Sportive Troyes AC.
Striker Mark Viduka, who was also on target in the return, and midfield player Lee Bowyer both struck twice but the defence's occasional lapses of concentration allowed Patrice Loko to score a double of his own and give Troyes hope for the second leg. The French side very nearly took that chance but Keane headed home 14 minutes from time to seal a 6-5 aggregate victory, despite a 3-2 loss on the night.
Leeds have been pitted against Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven in what is arguably the most attractive of the eight fourth-round matches. PSV would happily settle for a repeat of the sides' only previous encounter, which came in the second round of the UEFA Cup in 1995/96. Then the Dutch side were high-scoring winners, Luc Nilis netting twice in a 5-3 first-leg win in Leeds, before they claimed a 3-0 victory in the return.
'Grinding it out'
Leeds's ability to negotiate PSV could hinge on the availability of a number of key men, with a host of regulars including Olivier Dacourt and Bowyer sidelined at present. "I know we're currently grinding it out a bit, and that's because we have been so depleted for one reason or another," said O'Leary.
Striker Robbie Fowler, a €17.5m club-record signing from Liverpool FC, followed midfield player Seth Johnson, bought from Derby County FC for €11.2m, into the club, but, though they will bolster Leeds's domestic charge, neither is eligible for the meeting with PSV.
Hopes under threat
South African international Lucas Radebe is O'Leary's latest worry, the club captain ruled out for at least another three months after suffering ankle ligament damage. With O'Leary's stated aim this season to succeed in Europe and finish in the top four, guaranteeing Champions League football, such hopes are again under threat from injuries.