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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 27 February 2021

Breathtaking draw between Leeds and Manchester City lives up to the hype

Two acclaimed managers committed to attacking football went head-to-head at Elland Road, and although the game only produced a goal for each team, that did not dilute the entertainment

Raheem Sterling takes a shot at goal during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Manchester City at Elland Road. Reuters
Raheem Sterling takes a shot at goal during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Manchester City at Elland Road. Reuters

It was never going to be dull. Marcelo Bielsa and Pep Guardiola’s mutual commitment to attack is a reason each respects the other so much.

Their first Premier League meeting was played with the speed and the ambition most expected. It amounted to breathtaking brilliance in terms of entertainment.

Ultimately, perhaps it was appropriate that men who share footballing principles shared the points. Bielsa found himself vindicated in two respects. He had argued this week that it was no advantage to Leeds that Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus were out as City still had Raheem Sterling.

Sadly for him, he was proved right when the winger scored. Yet he was vindicated again when he brought on Rodrigo Moreno and the Spaniard illustrated why Bielsa had made him the most expensive player in Leeds’ history in a sparkling cameo. He scored once, hit the bar twice and changed the game.

The surprise was that such an all-action affair only produced two goals. Chances came with remarkable regularity – 13 in the first half-hour alone – as their respective managers’ principles produced a classic.

City may have been affronted by last week’s shock scoreline against Leicester. Leeds had gone toe to toe with the champions Liverpool. Neither took a backward step.

Guardiola responded to Sunday’s 5-2 defeat by introducing his new centre-back partnership. Ruben Dias was parachuted in for a debut, following his move from Benfica, and Aymeric Laporte was given a first league start of the season after recovering from coronavirus. Eric Garcia was omitted altogether ahead of a possible move to Barcelona.

Dias’ first contribution could have been to open his City account. The unmarked Portuguese met Riyad Mahrez’s corner but headed past the post. He could not be faulted for City’s defensive difficulties, which stemmed more from the full-back positions.

City had struck the woodwork inside three minutes. It was an early indication of the quick thinking both sides showed when Kevin de Bruyne whipped a free kick against the near post. Illan Meslier, who had been expecting a cross, was almost embarrassed.

Another unconventional move proved a masterstroke. Guardiola sprang a surprise by using Riyad Mahrez as a false nine. The beneficiary was Sterling, allowed to return to his more natural territory on the left, unleashed and unstoppable.

Mahrez might have broken the deadlock, courtesy of Sterling, who left Luke Ayling with twisted blood, but Stuart Dallas cleared his shot off the line. Sterling did put City ahead, finding the far corner of the net with precision after Liam Cooper, with a stray touch, allowed Ferran Torres to set up the winger.

Sterling shoulders a heavy burden in the absence of Aguero and Jesus, but his transformation into a prolific scorer is now complete. There was the sense that Guardiola reshaped his forward line because he recognised Sterling was his trump card.

And yet Leeds responded, aided by a relentless display of running power. They had got three equalisers before eventually losing at Anfield. They mustered one against City. They had threatened from the start.

Ezgjan Alioski’s header and Patrick Bamford’s rasping shot both cleared the bar. Clearer chances fell to the full-backs, in itself a sign of how progressive Bielsa’s blueprint is. Stuart Dallas burst into the box to meet Tyler Roberts’ lay-off. Ederson denied him with a sprawling save and Luke Ayling with a similarly fine block after he latched on to Benjamin Mendy’s error.

Bielsa has a habit of making decisive early changes. He brought the former City winger Ian Poveda on at half-time. His second switch was more notable, however. On came Rodrigo and, for the first time, Leeds’ record signing was soon on the scoresheet.

After his well-struck effort took a touch on to the bar, Ederson failed to claim Kalvin Phillips’ resulting corner. Rodrigo swept in the loose ball for the first repayment of his £27 million ($34.9m) fee. There was nearly a second, with Ederson redeeming himself with a brilliant save to tip the Spaniard’s header on to the woodwork.

Mahrez, too, had to turn stopper with a last-ditch challenge on Bamford, just as Ederson had to deny the striker a winner. Honours even after the most eventful of 1-1 draws.

Updated: October 4, 2020 11:26 AM

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