Are Leeds United and Aston Villa rivals? Graham Smyth’s verdict on the original state tribute act

So while the nurtured dislike between Aston Villa and Leeds is a fairly recent phenomenon, it stands up to scrutiny, despite this modern tendency to blame fanbases for manufacturing rivalries.

Any resentment felt in 2022 almost certainly stems from that crazy day in April 2019 when Villa players stopped playing, Tyler Roberts and Mateusz Klich did not and the Whites scored a goal that sparked anarchy.

Even after Marcelo Bielsa asked his side to grant Villa an undisputed leveler, the animosity lingered – John Terry continuing the argument in the moments after Albert Adomah was cleared to find a net unguarded.

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The fight on the pitch, the play of Patrick Bamford, the bickering on the touchline, Pontus Jansson getting the ‘give a goal’ memo and trying to file it in File 13 – it was a game that will live long in the memory and still fresh after three years.

Besides the madness that day at Elland Road, two attempts by Villa to land Kalvin Phillips, of which only the first had any chance, heightened the irritation and grief felt by the Whites.

Today, however, Phillips is not a Leeds player and many of April 2019’s main protagonists have also moved on. Gone are Bielsa, Dean Smith, Terry, Jansson and Adomah.

Jesse Marsch and Steven Gerrard replaced the men in charge of the two clubs, bringing with them their staff and recruiting new players.

RECENT RIVALRY – Leeds United and Aston Villa don’t seem to like each other much, as Patrick Bamford and Diego Carlos showed at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. Photo: Getty

Leeds consider having a good relationship with Villa at executive level. Marsch and Gerrard spoke of their mutual respect and admiration and came together for a sideline chat ahead of warm-ups at Suncorp Stadium.

But make no mistake, the directors, staff, players and fans on both sides wanted to win this one, friendly or not. And it wasn’t particularly nice.

From the outset, there were tackles which, had it been a Premier League-sanctioned game rather than an away game involving two Premier League clubs, would have resulted in cards.

Pre-season always has a bit of that about it. The players haven’t settled on their timing yet, there’s rust in the technique and the fitness levels aren’t where they’ll be, so a bit of a delay is to be expected. What wasn’t planned was a contest that paid a bit of homage to the State of Origin battle hosted by the same venue a few days earlier.

Marsch demands intensity from his out-of-possession players and contact is guaranteed when playing at Leeds, yet the early physicality was mainly contributed by Gerrard’s men, who found themselves on the back foot.

Leeds moved the ball forward, quickly, wide areas down the middle, as Rasmus Kristensen featured strongly at right-back and helped keep Villa pinned.

The ‘visitors’ had to wait eight minutes for their first real spell of possession and they found Leeds difficult to play, a disciplined adherence to their form ensuring that when the ball was lost Villa were unlikely to injure them on the transition.

Whether building from the back or counter-attacking, Marsch’s idea was clear, even if the execution wasn’t quite right, Patrick Bamford, Daniel James and Marc Roca all guilty well-intentioned but imprecise passes.

The first time it really worked, Leif Davis fired Jack Harrison down the left before a cut-back came to James, it took a superb save from Robin Olsen to keep the scores level. James’ instant volley headed inside until Olsen leapt through his goal to touch it wide.

Illan Meslier was quick to match and then improve on the Villa goalkeeper’s effort. A disconcerting penalty, against Tyler Adams for a phantom handball, gave Philippe Coutinho a golden chance from the spot but it was denied not once but twice by the Frenchman.

Seconds later he was back, sending a glove to send Ollie Watkins’ clean shot over the bar, Robin Koch’s errant touch having been attacked by Coutinho.

There were chances at both ends in the opener, with Aaronson playing Bamford who produced a good save from Olsen before James put the ball wide. Koch had to slide aggressively and delicately to stop Watkins from the penalty spot.

Leeds were winning the ball in good areas, allowing them to get into promising positions, but the final third was one where the necessary composure and precision were lacking.

There was no shortage of commitment, however, with Roca among those throwing themselves into challenges, a few of which were later than anyone would have liked. For Villa, Tyrone Mings desperately needed a yellow card.

Referee Adam Kersey, however, kept his cards in his pocket and must have regretted it after the break.

Villa changed nine of their outfield players and started better, putting the ball in the net with Aaronson injured. The irony overload was nullified by an offside flag.

Even against a very different side looking to settle into a rhythm, Leeds lacked control, giving the ball away too cheaply.

The growl increased. Bamford was left on deck by Diego Carlos, then got his reward before leaving as Marsch made his changes – six in all, initially, then a seventh with Kristensen replaced by Cody Drameh.

Prior to that swap, Villa took the lead through a Danny Ings penalty. Leif Davis was battered for the handball after raising his arms to protect his face in the area and Meslier was unable to repeat his heroism.

The sting hadn’t left the game and Archie Gray’s first tackle was no good, leaving Emiliano Buendia in a heap. This brought the game’s first yellow and sent the Argentine looking for a rematch. It took him two tries to bring down Leo Hjelde, but Kersey again kept his cards to himself and might have wished he hadn’t when John McGinn’s tackle left Gray needy. ‘a stretcher.

The ensuing yellow card was felt just as late as some of the challenges Kersey penalized with simple free-kicks.

Another save from Olsen, this time from Hjelde, was the only other highlight before the whistle blew on a game played, by the two teams, as rivals. Like it or not, these two teams have a rivalry. They are competing, like other top clubs, to stay in place and claim a place in the middle of the table, if not slightly better. They compete for airtime and column inches and will fish the same ponds for young players at home and internationals abroad. The two sets of fans, as the post-game chat made clear, disagree on almost every topic.

Whatever the origin of the feeling between these two teams and the fanbases, this friendly did little to bring them closer together.

They will see each other again in October and there may be fireworks, or maybe not, but there will be no love lost.