I’ll freely admit that today’s episode of Marching On Together is totally ridiculous, but at the same time brilliantly amazing. The Leeds United boys moved into 2025 with new signing Raheem Sterling and Brazilian striker Sidnei spearheading a lethal attack that had us flying high in the Premier League and into the Champions League knockout stages.
A very quiet January transfer window saw three very young prospects signed, who aren’t worth mentioning just yet, and two players go out on loan.
The new year began with another FA Cup third round exit – should probably stop turning the reserves out for it – but a streak of great Premier League form. A 2-0 win at Derby County was backed up by a brilliant 5-1 thrashing of Tottenham Hotspur. Despite going a goal down through Memphis Depay’s opener we bounced back through Ahmed Zahran’s brace, Sidnei and Sterling scored then young attacking midfielder Cristino scored his first goal for the club.
A 3-0 win at home to Brighton was followed by a 3-0 defeat at Liverpool – where we still haven’t won – before winning three consecutive league games. A loss at Chelsea was followed by an important 4-2 home win over Arsenal, in which Jack Clarke bagged his third hat-trick of the season.
And our odd form of never drawing continued as we beat Norwich, unsurprisingly lost 1-0 at Manchester United through a Marcus Rashford goal then somehow lost 4-0 at Huddersfield Town – in which I have no idea what happened.
That was followed by five wins from the last seven matches to secure a highly unexpected second-placed finish, just one point behind Man United – who lost their final game of the season. Our total of 83 points was amassed drawing just twice all season, which set a new Leeds record low.
Sterling had a sublime first season, with his 21 goals – which was the same amount he scored in the previous four campaigns at Man City – enough to earn him joint top scorer in the Premier League, only missing out to Kylian Mbappe on number of games played.
And the achievement of finishing second – five places above expectations – earned me a second Premier League Manager of the Year award.
Champions League battle
Our first foray into the latter stages of the Champions League began with a tricky looking tie against German giants FC Bayern. But we got off to a great start in the home first leg as a Benjamin Pavard own-goal put us ahead inside three minutes and it remained that way until ten minutes from time. Then the floodgates opened as Zahran added a second, before substitute Giacomo Gramantieri notched a third with a penalty on 85 minutes then Clarke sealed it after 88 minutes.
The nerves were jangling as the Germans were 2-0 up inside 22 minutes in the return leg, but I shifted things around defensively and tactically and we managed to hold on for a 4-2 aggregate victory.
Next up was familiar foes in Chelsea, and we again got a good home win to set us up nicely. It wasn’t looking great when they went a goal up after six minutes, but we bounced back with two first half goals from Clarke and Sidnei. Annoyingly they then went and equalised from the kick-off in the second half, but we repeated the trick with two goals from Sterling to take a 4-2 lead to Stamford Bridge.
And any prospects of a nervy game were more or less put to bed by an Antonio Rudiger own-goal just after half an hour. They equalised through Romelu Lukaku – yep, he’s back at Chelsea – just before half-time, but we saw it through for a 5-3 aggregate win that booked us into the semi-finals.
We had another English opponent waiting for us as we went up against Man United, who were still managed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and we were again at home in the first leg. However, in 14 previous clashes with United we’d only won once and drawn twice.
We got off to a poor start in the first leg with Victor Lindelof’s 12th minute goal giving United the edge, but we responded with second half goals from wingers Christopher Doro and Sterling to tee up an intriguing second leg.
United again seized the initiative in the return leg as Rashford scored against us again, this time in the first minute. But the Leeds boys once again showed ridiculous character to fight back and equalise two minutes before time through that man Sterling. And he was at it again 11 minutes into the second half to give us an unassailable 4-2 aggregate lead. Raheem Sterling had fired Leeds into only their second ever Champions League (European Cup) final.
In the final we were up against a decent AS Monaco side led by the strikeforce of Pietro Pellegri and Willem Geubbels, with support from Rony Lopes – who always seems to score against me – and Dani Olmo. And the Frenchmen made their class count as Olmo opened the scoring inside six minutes the Lopes doubled the lead five minutes before half-time.
The game was effectively up but I gave the lads an aggressive rollicking at half-time, went on the attack and brought on Doro – who’d been recovering from an injury – for Konrad De La Fuente just after time. The left winger had clearly been fired up because he smashed in a goal to halve the deficit within 14 minutes then doubled his tally seven minutes later. Amazingly, we’d bounced back to 2-2 with 20 minutes remaining.
Monaco absolutely dominated the chances, outshooting us 19-11 and getting 13 shots on target to our mere four. But, just as it looked like time was running out, that beautiful little man Raheem Sterling cut in from the right and smashed a shot into the top corner to hand us an extremely unlikely and probably highly undeserved last-minute winner.
I’ve never seen a team-talk work that well, especially in a big match, and I honestly don’t know how we won this game. But I genuinely screamed out Sterling’s name and leaped around my flat in joy at the final whistle. What a victory! Leeds United – champions of Europe!! Also, I earned the Comeback King badge for the first time I’d come back from two goals down to win on Football Manager 2019, which I’m not convinced is true.
Sterling also finished the Champions League as the second top scorer – with nine goals on top of his 21 in the league giving him 30 in his first season at Leeds. What a hero!
Sterling led our goals tally by some way, nine clear of Sidnei on 21, followed by Clarke (18, including three hat-tricks) and Zahran (14).
But in terms of personal accolades, Sidnei won the Players’ Young Player of the Year, although I was – perhaps a little harshly – disappointed by his return of 21 goals in 48 matches. While Jack Clarke picked up the Fans’ player of the season and our own young player of the season – which was a bit odd!
Our stellar season resulted in a huge hike in Leeds’ world ranking. Join us next time to see how we build on a fantastic league and European campaign, which I suspect will be fairly difficult to replicate.