'Believe, Leeds!' - Outrageous Leeds United keep faith with Plan A to hold Manchester City, Graham Smyth's Verdict

'Believe, Leeds,' came the unmistakable manic roar of Victor Orta as Leeds United kicked off against Manchester City.

By Graham Smyth
Sunday, 4th October 2020, 5:45 am
BELIEVER - Patrick Bamford didn't add to his three Premier League goals for Leeds United but he played a full part in their performance against Manchester City. Pic: Simon Hulme
BELIEVER - Patrick Bamford didn't add to his three Premier League goals for Leeds United but he played a full part in their performance against Manchester City. Pic: Simon Hulme

Easy for you to say, Victor, when you're up there in the comfy seats and not being run ragged by an eye-wateringly expensive, Pep Guardiola coached team of superstars who are threatening to put the game to bed inside 20 minutes.

It was outrageous for Marcelo Bielsa and his Leeds players to think they could play their usual football against these world class opponents and when Raheem Sterling gave City a 1-0 lead the options looked clear, change or lose heavily.

Leeds managed to draw this game 1-1 in the end, not because they repented for having the temerity to try and play out from the back and attack in numbers and abandoned a foolhardy plan, but because they did the same things over and over again and believed they could get different results.

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The way this game began presented one of the stiffest tests for the level of faith Bielsa's players have in their system and their ability to carry out the head coach's instructions.

City brought a storm to an already rain sodden Elland Road and even if Leeds swayed more than a little early on and conceded a Raheem Sterling goal, their anchor held and the storm passed.

Leeds doubled down. It was Plan A, but harder. They played even more aggressively, took risks in possession and took the game to City in a way that made the visitors look every bit as uncomfortable as the hosts had in the opening minutes.

The Whites actually got a taste of what it's like to play against Leeds United then ensured City didn't go home without the full experience.

Rodrigo's second half equaliser was richly deserved, as was the point, even if City came on strongly at the end.

Bielsa's faith in his players is apparently absolute and the evidence was littered across the game.

'You, Patrick,' he bellowed at Bamford as City prepared to swing in their first corner. The striker headed it clear.

There was a lot of defensive work to get through in the opening stages.

Kevin De Bruyne was every inch the 'early developer' in a junior game whose strength and ability provokes opposition demands to see a birth certificate.

He hit the woodwork with an audacious near-post free-kick that caught Illan Meslier by surprise and he was taking the ball off Leeds players then keeping it away from them with ease.

Leeds had no out-ball, no way of escaping the City players as they swarmed on second balls. The diagonal pass to the wings wasn't working for Meslier and when Kalvin Phillips tried to go through the middle, De Bruyne swept onto the ball to create a shooting chance.

It wasn't quite one-way traffic, Leeds won a ball high up the pitch and Luke Ayling's cross was headed over by Gjanni Alioski, whose arrival took Kyle Walker completely by surprise.

But when Robin Koch's pass to Meslier was a little undercooked and Benjamin Mendy picked off the keeper's rushed clearance, Liam Cooper took a poor touch outside the area and Sterling's quick feet took him inside the Leeds captain, giving him an age to bury the chance.

De Bruyne robbing Phillips again and Phil Foden shooting wide suggested a long, hard evening was in store.

It was, but for both teams, not just Leeds, who began to build their way into the game. They found passes to beat a City press that stopped being as effective as it was early on. Phillips worked hard to find space to receive and give passes and the Whites were able to progress play down the pitch.

Bamford shot wide and Ayling got in behind on an overlap as the tide turned.

Tyler Roberts' deft pass put Stuart Dallas in on Ederson, who saved well at his near post and the longer the first half went on, the more Leeds seemed to believe.

Ayling admitted last season that he didn't know if he was going to be good enough for the Premier League. He was up against it when Sterling had the ball but when Leeds had it, Ayling very much looked the part. A raking Cooper free-kick and Ayling's blindside run caught Mendy napping and the full-back shimmied away from a slide tackle before drawing a fine save from Ederson.

It was a huge chance to make it 1-1 but Bielsa gives value to chance creation because it shows his team what they can do.

Leeds continued to show that after the break, with half-time substitute Ian Poveda screaming down the right touchline and almost finding Bamford in the area.

Ayling couldn't keep his cross in with Roberts free at the back post and Bamford couldn't control Helder Costa's pass, but the game was being played in the right half of the pitch and Leeds had the ball.

When Rodrigo took Roberts' place, the Whites only looked more dangerous. His presence behind Bamford gave attacks a more fluid dynamic and when he backed himself to shoot from the tightest of angles it was deflected up onto the bar, earning a corner from which he scored.

There was, it must be said, a huge slice of good fortune about the goal, not for Ederson of course who fumbled Phillips' set-piece, but Leeds were well worth the leveller, from four yards.

Alright plucky Premier League new boys, you've had your fun now stop attacking and start protecting what you have.

It's just not the Leeds way. They have belief above their station.

Ex City prospect Poveda is the happy-go-lucky always smiling type off the pitch and he took real glee in taking Mendy apart before showing intelligence to stop, turn and dink a ball in behind for Mateusz Klich.

Ederson then saved comfortably from Phillips and, after a reminder from De Bruyne that he was in fact still playing as he shot wide, a slightly offside Cooper headed against the post and Rodrigo's header was tipped onto the crossbar. It was wild and getting wilder because suddenly it was end to end. Sterling raced clear, tracked by Robin Koch and Meslier stayed composed to take ball and man. Rodrigo crossed low for Bamford and Ederson saved again.

With City starting to reassert themselves it was the perfect time for a tactical substitution so Bielsa threw left-back Leif Davis into the fray for Klich. Nothing says belief in things unseen quite like asking a 20-year-old with 101 prior minutes of league experience to try and shackle Bernardo Silva, a player boasting four top flight title wins in three countries.

City put together a series of three penalty appeals, each louder and more convincing than the other, to Mike Dean's utter disinterest and in the face of growing pressure Leeds did the only sensible thing, attacking through Bamford who was a whisker away from being onside when he went one-on-one with Ederson.

For all City's threat late on, Meslier made just one more save, from a Bamford diving header that was either masterfully controlled or somewhat wayward. It mattered little when the full-time whistle went.

Bielsa, crouched down on the touchline, stayed there to collect himself. Leeds put all of themselves and all of him into this performance and they had to because faith and belief are nothing without hard work. Running is the foundation that this team and their scintillating football is built on and nothing they have achieved so far as a squad would have been possible without the endless, torturous, arduous yards. Their herculean efforts to cover vast amounts of ground make the results they obtain all the more gratifying and bring an authenticity and honesty to all the fancy flicks and one-touch passing moves.

Four games, two of which came against the best the Premier League has to offer, is now enough to suggest that the hype, when it comes to this Argentine and his team, is real. Believe, Leeds.