By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
Ralf Rangnick believes Manchester United will rise to the occasion of playing at a rocking Elland Road against old foes Leeds – a rivalry the interim manager only recently became aware of.
Sunday promises to be quite an occasion at Elland Road when it hosts a Premier League fixture between the rivals in front of fans for the first time since October 2003.
A hostile atmosphere lies in wait for United as soon as they set foot in West Yorkshire, but there appears little sign of Rangnick being intimidated by an enmity he did not know existed.
The 63-year-old has experience of derby matches in Germany and believes his experienced squad will thrive in the Elland Road cauldron.
“To be honest I didn’t know until a week ago, but most of my colleagues have already indicated that this is probably one of the biggest rivalries in the Premier League,” Rangnick said.
“But of course I also had quite a few of those local derbies in Germany, with Schalke against Borussia Dortmund, just to give you one example, and quite a few others.
“I think our team and our players have so much experience playing against teams like that in this atmosphere it can also – and will hopefully – rise our level of performance to play in this environment.
“Last season I think they played Leeds behind closed doors because of Covid restrictions and as far as I know it’s the first game in a full stadium since they last played in the Premier League. This is probably, I don’t know, 15, 20 years ago.
“It’s great. I think everybody prefers to play in a sold-out stadium, in a full stadium, rather than in an empty stadium and therefore it’s good. We are very much looking forward to the game.”
Whether Rangnick is as calm and measured during the storm that awaits his side at Elland Road remains to be seen.
It will certainly be a big test of his side’s mentality, which has been called into question lately due to their Jekyll-and-Hyde performances within games.
On Tuesday evening they recovered from a shaky first-half display to beat Brighton 2-0 and Rangnick wants his group to start on the front foot on Sunday.
“(It’s) very important (to start well),” Rangnick said. “Against Brighton we were struggling in the first half to just get hold of the ball, to win the ball.
“But we also have to admit that Brighton did extremely well. They are probably one of the best three teams in possession of the ball in the whole league.
“This only changed in the second half when we took more of a risk, pressing them higher and trying to just win balls in their half and this will be a similar game against Leeds United.
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“Although they have a different approach, they’re playing a different style of football, for us it’s important to be on the front foot and be more active, more proactive, similar to what we did against Brighton in the second half.
“Again, it will be a different game, so will the game on Wednesday against Atletico (Madrid in the Champions League) and then against Watford.
“We have to take one game after the other, prepare the team in the best possible way so that we’re able to win, if possible, all three games.”