The Leeds United lessons that need acting on and obvious Whites change but favours needed too

Getting anything against Manchester City really would have been against all odds.

By Lee Sobot
Sunday, 1st May 2022, 4:48 pm
Updated Sunday, 1st May 2022, 4:51 pm

The task against Pep Guardiola’s title-chasing superstars looked hard enough already without losing first captain Liam Cooper to a knee issue in the warm-up and then Stuart Dallas to a terrible injury at the end of the first half.

Over and above anything else, all thoughts are with Dallas and those close to United’s Northern Ireland international star who is now facing a lengthy period out with a femoral fracture.

Without him, and several others, Leeds United now have just four more games to ensure they remain a Premier League side and results this weekend have effectively taken their destiny out of their own hands.

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IMPACT: Dan James, right, had one of just two Leeds United shots on target against Manchester City, the other coming from fellow substitute Joe Gelhardt as both helped the Whites improve in the final third. Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images.

But whilst Saturday’s encounter always promised to be a gargantuan task, Jesse Marsch’s side ultimately had the chances to get something from it with set piece defending and picking the wrong options in the final third costing the Whites dear.

You’d be extremely hard pressed to suggest that Leeds were anything like unlucky against City or that Guardiola’s side thoroughly deserved their latest three-point haul.

The only stat that matters is goals for and against but City served up 19 attempts at goal, six of which were on target as opposed to seven attempts from Leeds, only two of which needed saving and both of those arrived from substitutes in one each for Dan James and Joe Gelhardt.

But those stats do not take into account the number of times United got themselves into promising positions in the final third only to waste the opening with the wrong pass.

A glorious opportunity in the fourth minute proved the best example of the lot when Joao Cancelo’s slip let in Rodrigo but the Spaniard was unable to supply a square ball for Raphinha who was storming through the middle of the park and into the box.

There was an air of inevitability about that missed opportunity coming back to haunt the Whites and that proved exactly the case.

But whilst some of City’s football was not surprisingly dazzling, both goals scored from set pieces were very avoidable.

Rodri was able to win a header for the City opener far too easily in the 13th minute as he got in front of Kalvin Phillips to a Phil Foden free-kick.

It was then a similar story nine minutes after the break when Ruben Dias beat Luke Ayling and Mateusz Klich to win a header at a corner that was turned in by Nathan Ake who escaped Pascal Struijk.

At 2-0, that was that, although United most certainly did not throw in the towel and the Whites looked particularly dangerous yet again once Gelhardt had finally been introduced from the bench but with just 28 minutes left.

It has been said before and it shall be said again that the sooner Gelhardt becomes a regular starter the better, in whatever formation opted for.

Joffy is clearly one for the future and still only 19 years old but Leeds are lacking in the final third and the tricky Gelhardt is continually causing defences problems when brought on.

Starting him just looks the obvious thing to do but it was another place on the bench for the teenager against City.

Instead, with James also benched, Rodrigo led the line in a 5-4-1 of sorts with Dallas and Junior Firpo wing backs to a back three of Struijk, Koch and Ayling, protected by Kalvin Phillips and Mateusz Klich as two CDMs.

The midfield was then flanked by Jack Harrison and Raphinha who ended up as a wing back given the reshuffle after Dallas and then afterwards Firpo and Rodrigo had gone off.

United’s formation and hard-working efforts inspired by a brilliant crowd undoubtedly made life difficult for City but in the end class told.

City are the defending champions who will probably win the league again and Leeds just need to make sure they stay in it.

Even with Arsenal and Chelsea next on the agenda, there is still every chance for Leeds to ensure that happens if lessons are learned and acted on from an encouraging display against the best of the best.

It has, though, now got to the stage where Leeds already need favours from elsewhere too.