Rodrigo pirouettes from the goalmouth after opening his Leeds United account.
As his teammates congratulate him, Pep Guardiola grimaces and reassesses his tactics. Manchester City’s layers sluggishly lump the ball up-field for the restart. And during the closing period of a blistering encounter,we almost come out on top. The stuff of dreams for The Whites.
Just over a month later, the ball deflects from a Hélder Costa slide-tackle. Its new trajectory almost defies physics to beat Illan Meslier at his near post. Palace’s players high-five each other as Roy
Hodgson does a mini fist pump. And as the half-time oranges are sliced, they’re 3-1 up and on course for the win. Not quite a nightmare, but far too close for comfort.
In fairness, neither of last week’s 4-1 score-lines felt like a true reflection of the game.
Against Leicester, Bamford’s missed header at 0-0 or Hernández hitting the woodwork at 1-2 could’ve swung it entirely. And even Leeds-loathing neutrals shook their heads in disbelief at Bamford’s disallowed goal with the score-line at 0-1 against Palace. Misfortune has played its part to an extent.
But at the same time, there’s no escaping the fact that we now have the joint-worst defence in the league. And in that all-important form table, we’ve one win in five. So, it’s safe to say that the honeymoon period is over. Back down to earth with a thud, and plenty for Bielsa to ponder over another (yes, another) international break.
The fact is: these are simply the ugly truths that we knew we’d have to face. The spine of our team was untested at this level.
The cauldron effect at Elland Road would be sorely missed. Injuries to key players would leave a thin squad exposed. And VAR is about as popular as unexpected tax bills.
What I’m saying is, there’s no reason to panic. We’ve got more points than fellow newly promoted sides West Brom and Fulham combined. We’ve got a plan, and an ‘identity’, and an approach that can topple anybody on its day. Our squad is much tighter than most and the new signings are adapting well. And once we have Kalvin Phillips, Rodrigo, and Diego Llorente (remember him?) available, we’ll be a formidable force.
Our next three ties are against Arsenal, Everton, and Chelsea. Just think about that for a moment.
Regardless of how we’re feeling about the last week, that should raise the hairs on the backs of our necks.
This is what we’ve dreamed about for years. Sure, we could’ve done without shipping eight goals in six days. But I remember us shipping seven in one game at home against Nottingham Forest.
This is exactly where we want to be.
So, let’s roll our sleeves up and make it count!