Leeds United victory at Manchester City was more significant than just beating champions-elect
MARCELO Bielsa knew that beating the very top sides in the Premier League was possible for his Whites.
The Leeds United head coach was also fully aware of his team’s record against the division’s top seven heading into Saturday’s clash at runaway leaders Manchester City.
Played ten, lost seven, drawn two, won one, with that sole victory coming via an impressive 3-1 victory at Leicester City at the end of January and the two draws coming against Chelsea and Manchester City at Elland Road.
A City side who are probably sick of the sight of Leeds who have now amassed four points against them when most sides of the division have taken none.
Another win against a top-seven side is in the bag, against the best of the lot, and Saturday’s victory at the Etihad will always be remembered as the day Leeds beat the champions-elect with ten men.
Yet there was a deeper significance to the triumph which conclusively proved that United can dig in and produce a defensive masterclass whilst still countering to devastating effect, if and when required.
Bielsa was asked about the possibility of undertaking such an approach from the very start of Saturday’s clash against Pep Guardiola’s side and the response was clear.
“For three years now we have been trying to play in one way,” said the Whites boss.
“I always think that you have to improve the way that you want to play rather than choose a different way to play.
"What I would like is to play in the same way every time.”
That left no doubt that Leeds would set out with their usual attacking style of play and that’s exactly what we got.
The Whites rode their luck somewhat and City’s finishing was wayward but Bielsa’s philosophy led to his side taking a 41st-minute lead through Stuart Dallas.
Yet five minutes later, Bielsa didn’t really have much choice but to change tact when captain Liam Cooper was sent off.
Bielsa, a coach who loves to attack, took off his top scorer Patrick Bamford to bring on a replacement centre back in Pascal Struijk with well over 45 minutes remaining.
Maybe not in the traditional style but this was clearly going to be an exercise of all hands on deck, men behind the ball, park the Bielsa bus as it were.
This from a Leeds side that shipped in four goals against Liverpool, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Arsenal and were hit for six by Manchester United.
Yet the second half at the Etihad produced one of the most significant 45 minutes of football of Bielsa’s tenure at Leeds so far as the Whites still managed to leave with all three points.
There are various reasons why and a City side who had 29 shots at goal failed to make the most of them with just seven of those on target.
Only Ferran Torres managed to beat Illan Meslier for the 76th-minute equaliser.
Meslier was also a big thorn in City’s side as the Frenchman produced some more impressive saves and Leeds incredibly netted with their only two shots at goal.
But Saturday’s victory was a triumph for sheer determination and hard work matched also with ambition which led to United countering and bagging their 91st-minute winner through Dallas which came only a few minutes after Raphinha had broken clear only to be thwarted by City keeper Ederson.
Seeing United with backs to the wall was an unusual concept, even against a side like City but in the circumstances they and Bielsa did not have much choice.
But the execution of a rather alien concept for this side was carried out to perfection as a second win against a top-seven side and moreover the best team in the country and possibly in Europe was achieved as a result.
The victory, however, was even more significant than that.
Expect Bielsa’s Whites to revert to type and their usual style come next Monday night’s clash against Liverpool, and after that at home to Manchester United.
If needed, however, events at the Etihad showed there is also another very impressive string to United’s bow.
Digging in, seeing it out, winning ugly as you might say, expect the beauty of this side is clear for all to see.
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Thank you Laura Collins