Marcelo Bielsa was right as 10-man Whites pull off most unexpected of results - Graham Smyth's Verdict on Manchester City 1-2 Leeds United

"There is nothing nicer for a spectator than to see something that they did not expect," said Marcelo Bielsa on Thursday.

Sunday, 11th April 2021, 5:42 am
NICE ONE - Marcelo Bielsa says there's nothing nicer than the unexpected for fans and Stuart Dallas' winner for Leeds United at Manchester City proved his point. Pic: Getty

On Saturday he watched as Stuart Dallas won a footrace to the Manchester City area to find the net and give the 10 men of newly promoted Leeds United a 2-1 victory over the Premier League champions elect.

Silence fell briefly over Pep Guardiola's star-studded substitutes and the Etihad backroom staff as their visiting counterparts whooped and embraced.

No one inside the £110m stadium saw it coming.

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And why would they? The 1-1 draw Leeds earned at Elland Road earlier in the season was, by anyone's wisdom, the one result in 10 that wouldn't go the way of Guardiola's superstars.

The accounts published in the week leading up to the game told the story well enough. A payroll of £351.4m at City dwarfed Leeds' £78m wage bill.

And even with seven changes to the side that beat Borussia Dortmund taken into account, City were still huge favourites.

"The lads to face Leeds..." tweeted their official account at 11:30am, before reeling off the names of 11 top class footballers. An expensive bunch of lads included £49m Raheem Sterling, £41m Nathan Ake, £43m Bernardo Silva, £34m Fernandinho and £27m Gabriel Jesus. Only one player in Leeds' entire history has cost as much as Jesus and he, Rodrigo, was out injured.

On the bench, just in case, sat Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, İlkay Gündoğan and Riyad Mahrez, an all-star cast of supporting actors.

As Whites defender Robin Koch put it: "They're the best team in the world."

Quite how £1.3m Dallas came to consign them to defeat with his second of the game must have bewildered them all.

Of Bielsa's starting line-up few other than Illan Meslier, Kalvin Phillips or Raphinha, could be considered to have superstar potential. The rest are proving themselves to be more than good enough for the top flight, yet with this Leeds team it's still a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

As club chiefs have admitted, it is impossible for Leeds to close the gap in spending power and star quality to Manchester City but they must at least narrow it, to have any hope of holding on to their most talented individuals.

The stadium, off-field operations and finances must improve, the team must get better and more consistent.

City had won 27 of 28 games going into this one. Bielsa spoke of the need for Guardiola's men to prove themselves as good players every couple of days, to explain the quality they possessed.

Narrowing the gap to such a club and such a squad requires fighting tooth and nail for every inch, on and off the pitch.

It requires the massive physical effort that Bielsa talks about and Victor Orta's exhaustive work to find players who might one day but don't yet command the highest prices.

Raphinha is an example of a player able to produce the necessary effort and a player who cost a snip of what he's now worth. Showing pace that troubled City and Benjamin Mendy from off, his first run down the flank ended in a pass that was just behind Patrick Bamford, before a clever pass that put Tyler Roberts in behind the defence, John Stones missing a resulting cross that Bamford couldn't connect with.

City were not quite perfect in the opening stages and Leeds got away with a few little mistakes, Meslier playing a pass straight to Mendy, Tyler Roberts allowing Fernandinho to turn too easily and drive forward into space and Liam Cooper passing it straight out of play deep in his own half.

Stones was becoming a problem, running through the middle of the pitch, yet Leeds were defending well and presenting problems of their own on the break, Helder Costa showing aggression to win the ball back in good areas.

Meslier had to make a smart intervention with his feet when Fernandinho got into the area, Torres headed over from a free-kick and Sterling missed badly when found by a Fernandinho cut-back, but it was Leeds, not City, who took the lead.

Costa took advantage of Cancelo's hesitancy, stretched to poke the ball to Bamford and he teed up Dallas, his low drive spinning into the net off the inside of Ederson's right hand post.

What happened next, in first half stoppage time, should have sucked the wind right out of Leeds' sails, holed their hull and sank them without a trace.

Cooper swung his boot to try and clear, getting the ball and Jesus' knee to earn a yellow card. VAR called Andre Marriner to the monitor and as each new slow motion replay managed to make it look worse than the previous one, the outcome appeared more and more inevitable.

The card that came out of Marriner's back pocket was surely the red rag to the bull and Leeds would need not only a massive physical effort but something superhuman, to survive.

Bielsa had replaced Bamford with centre-half Pascal Struijk just after the sending off and with City dominating the second half, took off Roberts and sent on Koch, another central defender.

He essentially ceded the middle of the pitch to the hosts, keeping Raphinha and Costa high and wide to remain a threat on the break and waiting until City got to within a certain distance of goal, then a centre-half or Phillips or Dallas would spring out to try and pressure the ball carrier.

It was Stones more often than not, who moved the ball towards the edge of the area where he was met with a wall of claret shirts.

When City did get into the area, Leeds did enough to keep them out, Phillips cutting out a dangerous Jesus pass, Meslier saving well from Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Leeds did well to hold out until the 76th minute when a bit of pace on the passes into the final third created time for Torres to clip the ball beyond Meslier.

Resistance broken and with restarts becoming an exercise in varying the ways in which the ball was returned to City, a draw appeared the best Leeds could hope for and an unlikely event in itself.

Long periods went by with every player bar Ederson in Leeds' defensive third. It was a little reminiscent of Leeds' April 2019 loss to Wigan. Bielsa took on the role of Paul Cook, with Guardiola playing the part of Bielsa.

And with the hosts' pressure amounting to nought, thanks to a lack of precision in attack and an abundance of desire and concentration in defence, Leeds did a Wigan, of sorts.

Raphinha had already come close to winning it, haring in alone on Ederson only to be denied by a great piece of goalkeeping, and the superstars failed to heed the warning.

In the 91st minute the benefits of murderball and the beauty of football showed themselves, Gjanni Alioski playing a perfect through ball for Dallas and he found something superhuman to outrun the scrambling City defence and finish, through Ederson's legs to boot.

Manchester City 1 10-man Premier League newcomers Leeds United 2. Nothing could have been more unexpected than that. Nothing could have been nicer.