Super United destroy Spaniards at Elland Road...
Leeds United 3, Deportivo La Coruna 0
April 4 2001
Leeds United: Martyn, Mills, Harte, Ferdinand, Matteo, Dacourt, Batty, Bowyer, Kewell (Wilcox), Smith, Viduka. Subs not used: Robinson, Kelly, Maybury, Bakke, Burns.
Deportivo La Coruna: Molina, Scaloni (Valeron), Romero, Naybet, Pablo, Cesar, Javier (Tristan), Costa, Duscher (Pandiani), Dias, Makaay. Subs not used: Songo'o, Capdevila. Sanchez, Cipitria
"The best yet." That was how David O'Leary described Leeds United's 3-0 first leg victory over Deportivo La Coruna in the Champions League quarter-final at Elland Road on April 4, 2001.
Not a bad description by any means. United were great and the victory over an undoubtedly talented Deportivo side was something special and made a lot of people, in addition to United fans, sit up and take note of O'Leary's side.
The United manager's plan was first and foremost not to allow Deportivo an 'away' goal to take back to Spain, so to achieve that and knock in three goals as well was particularly rewarding - and, in view of some derogatory pre-match comments from Deportivo midfielder Victor, extremely satisfying.
Victor had apparently claimed before the game that of the teams still left in the competition, United were the one the others would prefer to play, meaning they were the weakest left in the contest.
United, however, refused to be drawn into a war of words, O'Leary saying that Victor was entitled to his opinion. "I would say we are the smallest club of those left in, but so what?" the United boss said.
In addition to United and Deportivo, the other clubs still in at this stage were Bayern Munich (who would have been O'Leary's preference for a quarter-final tie) Manchester United, Real Madrid, Valencia, Arsenal and Galatasary.
Rio Ferdinand also refused to be drawn too deeply into the pre-match debate, but said: "Results speak more than people speak. We've had this sort of thing a lot in this competition, especially against Anderlecht, and it serves to bring the lads closer together. It makes us all the more determined," he said.
He added: "When you consider no-one gave us a chance in the group stages, being in the last eight is like a victory on its own. Anything else we achieve is a bonus."
United did most of their talking on the pitch with a five-star performance that produced three goals and gave the Elland Road faithful the opportunity to taunt the opposition with chants of 'Three-nil to the weakest team.'
United were certainly up for this challenge and they went at Deportivo powerfully but it was the 26th minute before United took the lead with one of Ian Harte's specialist free-kicks. The Irish international beat the keeper with a fierce shot that sped into the goal off the underside of the crossbar.
Alan Smith increased United's lead in the 51st minute when, following a corner, he directed a powerful header from Harte's cross into the net. It really was becoming one of those glorious European nights at Elland Road.
Even more so, quarter of an hour later, when Rio Ferdinand set the seal on a rewarding night's work when he thundered in a header for his first goal for the club.
Although elated by such a commanding first leg lead, O'Leary, mindful of Deportivo's attacking ability, especially at home, preached caution. "It was our best yet," the United boss said of the result. "But I have seen three-goal advantages wiped out before and we know Deportivo can score goals at home," he added.
As things turned out, O'Leary's caution was not misplaced. When I travelled to Spain for the return leg and chatted with fans of the Spanish champions none seemed perturbed. In fact, they were convinced their side would overturn the 3-0 deficit - and they almost did.
Deportivo put on an attacking display that was, quite frankly, awesome. They were two goals up in no time and United were hanging on by the skin of their teeth for far too long. But hang on they did.
Leeds United Press Officer and former soccer correspondent of the Yorkshire Evening Post