On any other day, the meeting between the newly qualified Leeds United and Manchester City would have been just another contest where full points would have been guaranteed for City. But this season, Pep faced one of his idols – Marcelo Bielsa. Pep is not only just a student of Bielsa’s football philosophy but also a student of his style. In that sense, it would always be a tough task for the student to outshine his teacher.
— Premier League (@premierleague) October 3, 2020
The heavens opened at Yorkshire and rain was pouring down. The atmosphere was damp and cold, but on the pitch, the action heated things up.
It turned out t be one hell of a match to remember, with whirling action everywhere on the pitch -precision, pace, and absolute fury. Each and every second invited thriller and a heart-stopping tie that enthralled anyone who watched live on television.
City started with a relentless pace – Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne at first, Aymeric Laporte, Patrick Bamford, and then Phil Foden later. The players ran like Hare on a slippery surface and none of them knew how to take a rest. They searched for goals. They left spaces. The defence was highline. The opportunities came and exploited, but both the sides only lacked the ideal incisiveness to script the winner.
Leeds United possession in games this season: ?
? Liverpool (a) – 51.2%
? Fulham (h) – 50.3%
? Sheff Utd (a) – 63.7%
? Man City (h) – 52.4%
— bwin (@bwin) October 3, 2020
Pep applied the plan of using a left-footed Riyad Mahrez as a false Nine as he did with Lionel Messi in Camp Nou. But Mahrez is no Messi and in turn, it allowed Raheem Sterling to prosper on the left. It paid rich dividends – he scored his first goal of the season.
Liam Cooper gave the ball away, Sterling latched on to Ferran Torres’ pass, cut infield, and found the bottom corner.
But the ambition of Leeds was not dented and they searched for goals – two best first-half chances fell to full-backs. Ederson twice denied them, thwarting Dallas after a surge forward.
But it was not one of those matches, where the keepers enjoyed a great time.
Ederson has now made three errors leading to goals in the Premier League in 2020, only Jordan Pickford (4) has made more.
His mistake sees Leeds draw level. pic.twitter.com/sDf2xOvDuR
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 3, 2020
Bielsa and Guardiola emphasize on passing the ball out from the back, it is fundament to both of their footballing philosophies. For that to work, a team needs a goalkeeper who is exceptional with his feet. Usually, Ederson and Illan Meslier are both good with their feet but the thing is both are also goalkeepers prone to error.
Meslier’s passing under City’s press was a bit sloppy and he, more than once, just straight gave it away; the lead-up to City’s opening goal can be traced to an awful Meslier pass straight into midfield.
Sorry Ederson but it’s an error son.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) October 3, 2020
At the other end, Ederson returned the favour, however, by failing to claim a corner and instead of knocking the ball down to Rodrigo who stabbed home an equalizer.
None could deny their positive impact, but in such a pulse-racing affair, the mistakes make those impacts less relevant.
Jack Harrison spurned one fine chance and then was removed at the break as Bielsa brought on Ian Poveda, the winger he bought from Guardiola.
Then, Bielsa brought on Rodrigo – the club-record-buy – to inject more intensity.
? Rodrigoooooaaaaalllll!!!! pic.twitter.com/k05ItrLVuc
— Leeds United (@LUFC) October 3, 2020
At first, his rising shot was deflected on to the bar. But Ederson, excellent in the first half, undermined that fine work by spilling Kalvin Phillips’ corner for Rodrigo to tap in his first Leeds goal.
Rodrigo also hit the crossbar twice as the Whites continued their impressive start to life in the top tier, although City felt they should have had a late penalty for a challenge on Sterling.
Sterling’s movement, pace, and dribbling put him into positions where he really should be one of the absolute undisputed best players in the division on the same level as Mohamed Salah and Kevin de Bruyne; but when players Salah and Mane take them to the next level with their sharpness and grit, Sterling is left as a confusing figure as the game progresses. He is yet to realize that he could be more.
Raheem Sterling’s stats are the biggest false image in sports history
— ً (@Citehzen) October 3, 2020
Missing easy chances is becoming a hallmark of Sterling’s game. The memories of that skier against Lyon from five yards in the Champions League, or countless other moments where no matter how well he plays, he just cannot finish.
Guardiola has always talked up Sterling’s talent as being able to be one of the world’s very best players scoring not just 30 but 40 or even 50 goals. But that will never happen until and unless Sterling learns to get rid of those sitters and increase his goal-conversion rate.
Then, fingers can be pointed towards the backline of City – Pep spent big on fixing the defence. Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias dug deep and inject solidity, but their efforts were put under pressure consistently by Benjamin Mendy.
Mendy was very poor on the ball.
Benjamin Mendy is such a weak link in this Manchester City backline, won’t be surprised if Pep signs a left back in the next summer transfer window.
— Ugbedeojo (@Certifiedopeboi) October 3, 2020
His passing was sloppy, his dribbling average, and his end product in the final third non-existent. Obviously, he’s had serious injury problems but he looks a million miles away from the player that terrorized France and Europe (including City) at Monaco.
Tonight Mendy gained possession just twice whilst losing it a massive 16 times – his pass completion was an abysmal 56.5%. He created no chances at all and once Ian Poveda came on, Mendy looked shaky. Poveda tortured Mendy and hammered him to the point where Pep actually took him off for Nathan Ake and City started to look better.
Pep Guardiola has seen his team drop points in 2 of their opening 3 league games for the first time since his debut managerial season with Barcelona in 2008-09. Overall, a very entertaining match, but Pep would not be happy with the outcome. pic.twitter.com/1pTG9Hn5zU
— Faisal Caesar (@faisalyorker1) October 3, 2020
In the final 10 minutes of the game it was more about City desperately pushing for a winner, and with a bit more luck and incisiveness; they might have won it.
The game ended 1-1 – Pep has plenty to think about.
But Marcelo Bielsa had been the ultimate winner.
Kalvin Phillips for Leeds vs. Man City:
◎ Most ball recoveries (9)
◎ Most crosses (5)
◎ Most tackles won (6)
= Most interceptions (3)
An incredible performance. pic.twitter.com/q79TYlCNKw
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 3, 2020
Bielsa started the game a bit overawed, but soon grabbed the momentum and began to blossom.
Leeds had more passes and possession than Manchester City and dominated the game for vast swathes. Kalvin Phillips was magnificent in the heart of the pitch, a Championship player elevated by Bielsa to the point where if he showed up in the Champions League you wouldn’t be shocked.
Bielsa consistently made changes and adjustments to alter the tempo of the game. If only Bielsa had more players like Phillips, more players closer to the level of City then Pep would have digested another setback.