Leeds United entertained Manchester City at Elland Road on Saturday and rolled back the ages with a magnificent performance. City New boy Ruben Diaz made his debut in the heart of the defence alongside Laporte. Leeds fielded a more settled side sticking with Bamford up front with their record signing Rodrigo starting on the bench.
City set the early pace of the game with a start we’ve become accustomed to lately with 70% possession in the opening 20 minutes. Leeds simply had to sit back and try to soak up the pressure. Kalvin Phillips has had a good start in the Premier league but must have wondered what he did to deserve such attention. With both DeBruyne and Foden clearly under orders to close down the Leeds playmaker he was dispossessed at every turn.
City pushed high and even with no recognisable striker it was only a matter of time that they punished Leeds. Sterling cut inside from the flank and crossed for Dias to slam a shot off the Leeds defender. Moments later DeBruyne fakes a free kick delivery and rattles the ball off the post. Pressure was ramped even more with Leeds struggling to deal 1to1 with both Diaz and Sterling out wide but it was losing possession through the middle which eventually cost them. Sterling was played wide on the left after an interception. He lined up the full back and with two shoulder drops found himself at the edge of the box. He opened his body and caressed the ball into the right corner off the wet surface.
Sink or swim
In many ways this was strangely a turning point for Leeds. Many teams, especially newly promoted would be forgiven for buckling under this intensity. But Leeds showed their mentality and confidence by throwing out the rulebook on how to take on this Pep Guardiola side. Leicester showed how to break this City side on the counter but Leeds decided to match fire with fire. Moving on the front foot with what seems to be a 4-1-5 formation Leeds occupied the City backline in total.
They clawed back possession from the 20th minute onwards and it immediately payed off. Built on the calmness of Ayling, Koch and Cooper who refused to launch the ball waywardly instead Leeds controlled the possession better. Dallas got in on goal after a superb offload from Bamford only to see Ederson turn it wide. Moments later Ederson was called on again this time after Mendy lost possession with a heavy touch. Ayling took it across Laporte and found himself 1v1 but could not pass the Brazilian stopper on this occasion. This was the last action of the half.
The Leeds way of play
Having watched Leeds alot last season and obviously more so now that they come with such high accolades. They play a very interesting way when compared to most standard premier league teams. As mentioned it is the manner in which they attack in what can only be described as a swarm. The player in possession is immediately joined and overlapped by 1 or 2 team mates. Balls forward to Bamford are offloaded usually only needing to go 3 or 4 yards. Small intricate passes are key as they simply overload one side of the field until they outnumber the opposition. Because of the sheer numbers that they advance it means a higher likelihood of creating 1v1 situations and this is where they excel. Helder Costa and Alioski have the pace and skill to cause problems on the flanks even for such defenders as fast as Mendy and Walker.
Risk and reward
It is rare to get games like this. Both City and Liverpool will testament that teams usually setup to draw and stifle rather than to actually win by attrition. City have played like this since Pep came on board and it was refreshing to see another manager try match them. Rodrigo was introduced on 56mins as Leeds tweaked their system. It proved a pivotal decision as he found his first goal for the Club within minutes. A corner not dealt with by Ederson was dropped at the feet of Rodrigo and he calmly threaded the many legs in front of him and into the net.
At this stage it was anyone’s game with both sides throwing caution to the wind and playing with a freedom. Rodrigo thought he doubled his tally when he stole in behind a cross to Bamford and headed towards the top corner. Ederson however made amends for his earlier error as he stretched every sinue in his body to deny with an incredible save. Foden danced through the Leeds defence but was denied by a tackle. City demanded a penalty when an arm flicked the ball from a shot off Bernardo Silva. A decision that might have been given last week.
Both managers emptied their respective benches but it was Pep who made some perhaps out of character changes. Fernandinho was an obvious change to most but maybe not when chasing a goal. Mendy made way for Ake perhaps showing even City sometimes need to tweak their attacking swagger. With both teams having put so much into this game it was City who seemed to finish stronger but hapily for any neutrals both sides left with a well deserved point. It was like 2 boxers standing after 12 rounds of hard graft having emptied the tank completely.
What have we learned?
For City it was important to bounce back from their defeat last week with a solid performance. Their lack of a striker is becoming an issue as they lack a focal point. Even with their bottomless pit of talented midfielders they need an out and out striker to put teams to the sword. I’d have backed Aguero to grab at least one of he was fit yesterday. Worryingly though is their tempo in these games. For 20 minutes this week they were imperious. But as soon as they dropped this tempo they become vulnerable. They do not seem to be able to give 90 minutes at this level and teams know this.
For Leeds this was proof that they have what it takes to make a serious impression in the league this season. It also vindicates Bielsa and his style that they can go toe to toe with the best attacking teams around. To be on the ropes like they were in the opening quarter and then bounce back must be very satisfying. Managers will have to be on their game when deciding how to counter the Leeds style of play. They will ship goals at times but you can see them scoring enough to win more than they lose.