By Matt Rowson
I'm having a bad day.
I woke up. It was morning. Not a good start. Dark, for the first time this year. This, too, is not good. Work isn't interesting. Then I get home and find my kitchen infested. Argh, horrible. Bleurgh. I remove the infestation. I hope. I then confer with girlfriend (on the other side of London) and circumstances conspire to mean that I won't see her for a second weekend running. Bugger bugger bugger.
Then to cap it all, this preview. It could have been against the Red Filth, but no, that'll be a couple of weeks on when I'll no doubt be feeling well mellow and at one with the world. It could have been one of the multitude of Boro (or, crucially, Bryan Robson) games coming up. But no. Just when I'm perfectly stoked up to spit out some puerile vitriol, I get Leeds.
I would like to be able to slag Leeds United. It shouldn't be hard. "David" and "Batty", to pick a couple of words out of the air at random. Plus the screwdriver that I got through a tyre in Leeds the evening that Brian Gayle won them the title.
Ah, but that's it, isn't it. It may have only postponed the Mancs' first league title since nineteen-diddly-pom for one season, but what the hell it was brilliant. Great stuff. And now, having gone full circle from title winners through seven shades of average and back up again, Leeds have a side capable of seriously challenging again.
Unlike Chelsea and Arse, their line-up doesn't read like a random mix'n'match selection from packets of Panini France 98 stickers. Unlike Man.United, they aren't Man.United either. Leeds' side is full of exciting young players, and even if you can't win anything with kids it'll be a good laugh watching them try.
(Before you ask... the Golden Boys for the Championship this season may be pushing it in all honesty. Next year. This time, I'll settle for Europe.)
Five of the sixteen named against Newcastle last weekend are over twenty-three. Of these, the eldest is 'keeper Nigel Martyn. Recently promoted to the England side in the absence of David Seaman, Martyn's chief weakness is a tendency to send balls into the stand ("the Miller effect"). His deputy is England U21 keeper Paul Robinson.
Right back is Gary Kelly, having displaced summer signing Danny Mills. Kelly, now 25, has had a couple of difficult seasons with injury, but still has a lot of pace and reads the game well, although he can't cross for toffee. His nephew on the other flank, Ian Harte, however, will be a threat from any dead-ball situation.
Centre-backs are the imposing Lucas Radebe and young England cap Jonathan Woodgate, with Michael Duberry, Robert Molenaar and Martin Hiden all missing with injuries. Despite their formidable reputation, Leeds' defence has been shipping a few goals this season, with Radebe in particular not having reached the height of his displays of last term.
In midfield, much has been made of the early form of Lee Bowyer, which is pretty irrelevant as he will tragically be suspended on Sunday having become the first player in the Premiership to pick up a suspension for five bookings this season. Alongside the equally restrained David Batty is likely to be Norwegian playmaker and U21 captain Eirik Bakke, a summer signing. Bowyer's place will either go to large-eared Scotsman David Hopkin or Norwegian Alf-Inge Haaland, a more defensive option. Irishman Stephen McPhail is injured. Portugese Bruno Ribeiro is simply not very good. Norwich even tried to sign him.
On the left, the much-heralded Harry Kewell. Reputedly United's most consistent so far, his form has even caused Barry Venison to speculate as to why Kevin Keegan hasn't picked the Australian international midfielder for England yet. Scary. (But not as scary as the thought that someone at ITV pays this joker....)
Up front, the current pairing is Alan Smith and ex-Sunderland striker Michael Bridges - already an awesome partnership, and one which will only get better. Cover is provided by Kewell, and by Darren Huckerby, a surprising signing by O'Leary, famously described as a "scorer of great goals rather than a great goalscorer" by his former boss.
In the absence of the lower profile sulk of the summer, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Leeds are lacking a bit of experience up front, something which David O'Leary reputedly has the funds to correct with Porto's Jardel mentioned.
Before Sunday, Leeds face Partizan Belgrade in what David O'Leary candidly (and with more than a little justification) describes as the "ludicrous" UEFA Cup. Then, on Sunday, we will face a challenge that is rather different to those we have faced recently. Unlike our recent opponents, Leeds don't have a problem scoring goals, and are leaking them quite freely at the back (although not freely enough to prevent five consecutive wins being chalked up).
Don't expect this to be the eighth consecutive Hornets league match to hang on a single goal.
Don't expect to be bored either.