LEEDS UNITED head coach Garry Monk last night challenged his side to “do yourselves justice” when one of football’s more evocative and historic rivalries resumes with a place in the League Cup semi-finals at stake.
The Elland Road club head to Liverpool as huge underdogs against a side who sit just one place and one point off the Premier League summit.
Manager Jurgen Klopp is expected to ring the changes with his side’s title bid in mind following a spate of injuries, which means Leeds are spared having to face the likes of playmaker Phillippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana.
He did the same in the last round, however, and Liverpool still knocked out Tottenham Hotspur so Monk, part of the Swansea City side that won at Anfield in the fourth round en route to lifting the League Cup in 2013, appreciates the size of the task facing his players tonight.
“Anfield is a special play to go and play,” said Monk, who welcomes back Pontus Jansson from suspension.
“A lot of my players have not played at Anfield before.
“But it is not about the history of the two clubs or about Anfield. We can enjoy all that afterwards. What we do want to do is leave with the right memories. That is our challenge.
“Playing at these historic grounds is always special and the ones you look back on at the end of your career. But you want to do that having done yourselves justice.
“I have been on both ends of it (at Anfield, where Swansea lost 5-0 in the same season that the Welsh club triumphed in the League Cup) and we have to do ourselves justice.
“We want to play our best football. We have to be at our maximum. It will be extremely difficult, but if we are at our maximum then we will be competing and that means we have a chance of getting the result we want.”
Bremner, Keegan, Cantona, Viduka and Barnes are just some of the stellar names to have lit up this fixture down the years with the two combatants having gone head-to-head in everything from the FA Cup final to the 1969 title decider, and even in European competition.
Don Revie’s Leeds prevailed in the two-legged Inter-Cities Fairs Cup semi-final in 1971 en route to lifting a trophy that was the fore-runner to the UEFA Cup.
But it is the Reds who boast the better record in the domestic cups.
Liverpool beat United at Wembley in the 1965 FA Cup final and then, eight years later, knocked the Yorkshire club out in the fourth round of the League Cup.
In fact, the last four meetings between these two great rivals in knockout competition all went the way of the Reds, most recently in 2009 when David Ngog’s second-half strike sent Rafel Benitez’s men through to the League Cup fourth round.
Odds of up to 14-1 on an away win tonight suggest the bookmakers are in no doubt as to who is likely to claim a place in the last four, but Monk insists his side will make the trip along the M62 in determined mood.
He said: “From my experience, you get to this stage in a knockout competition and anything can happen.
“We will go to Liverpool with belief. We have to limit our mistakes, but we have got a good chance.
“This season, the Cup and the league have really gone hand in hand and helped us. We really want to give our supporters something to shout about.”
Tonight’s 115th meeting between Leeds and Liverpool will pit Monk against one of the Premier League’s most charismatic managers in Klopp.
The German has inspired a huge upturn in fortunes at Anfield since arriving a little over a year ago.
“I admire how his team plays,” said Leeds chief Monk about Klopp. ”They are in very good form. He is a very experienced manager and you have to respect the job he has done.
“His personality comes across really well and, hopefully, we can have a chat after the game.”
Klopp cut a hugely animated figure during Saturday’s 2-0 win at home to Sunderland, at one stage waving his arms around frantically in an attempt to whip up the capacity crowd when the score was goalless.
With more than 5,000 United fans making the trip tonight, the atmosphere for the Yorkshire club’s first visit to Anfield since 2003 should take care of itself, but Monk appreciates that his Liverpool counterpart will ensure the locals also play their part.
“You would have to ask him about it (Saturday), but maybe he felt that at that point the fans could have pushed the players a bit harder,” Monk said. “Maybe that’s what he felt was needed to help the team get over the line.
“Sometimes that’s the situation. You see quite a lot of managers do that nowadays. They try to get the crowd involved when their team’s not performing at their peak.”