Luke Ayling told Sky Sports what the chance to face “one of the greatest” in Cristiano Ronaldo will mean as Leeds host old rivals Man Utd on Super Sunday.
Elland Road will host Manchester United in a top-flight clash in front of fans for the first time in almost two decades when Ralf Rangnick’s side take to the field on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Premier League, although Ayling has more than enough experience of facing one of Leeds’ oldest foes already.
The right-back was on the scoresheet to bring Leeds level at Old Trafford on the opening day of this season, before the hosts hit back to run out 5-1 winners and stun Marcelo Bielsa’s side. That set the tone for what has been a difficult campaign for the Whites, who have never been above 15th and managed back-to-back wins only once.
Ronaldo had not completed his return to United by the time of that game, and Ayling told Sky Sports he was embracing the opportunity of facing the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
“He’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game; of course it’s great to be on the same pitch as someone like that,” he said.
“Everyone’s watched him for years, it’ll be nice to get on the same pitch as him and hopefully do well against him.
“The game at Old Trafford was a weird one. We felt like we stayed in it first half, stayed alright, went in at 1-0 down and got it back to 1-1, then there was just a mad five minutes where they scored three goals and it was 4-1 before we knew it.
“We take a lot of heart from what we did against them at our place, I thought we did really well, and got a 0-0 draw, we coped with them really well.
“We knew the second year of being in the Premier League would be tough. We were still riding the wave of promotion the first year, we started well, and it kind of just carried on. But going into the second season, you’ve seen it loads of times before, you know it’s going to be a tricky season.
“It hasn’t helped that we’ve had so many injuries along the way, and it feels like once we get two or three back, then four get injured. It’s been a hard season like that, but we keep plugging away and trying to get points to climb the table.”
There is rarely much love lost when Leeds and Man Utd face one another, with a rivalry stretching back to the 1960s showing no sign of dying down nearly six decades on.
Even without fans there to stoke the tension when the two sides met at Elland Road last season, the significance of Sunday’s game has not been lost on Ayling – and the 30-year-old says his team-mates are just as aware of its importance to the club’s support, perhaps more so given their pandemic-enforced absence.
“We know what a big game it is for the fans,” he said. “They’ve waited 17 years to get back into the ground to see this game, we played Man Utd last year without them here – the players will be rocking on Sunday, it’s the one game I know they’ve been buzzing for.
“I think it gives the whole city, the whole club a lift [to win] and after the match last weekend, it’s a good game for us to go in because we know the crowd’s going to be behind us, 100 per cent. The place is going to be rocking, and it’s a great chance for us.”
Watch the full interview with Leeds United’s Luke Ayling on Super Sunday Matchday on Sky Sports News from 10am on Sunday, and catch Leeds vs Man Utd live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1pm, kick-off 2pm.