Manchester City lost after six successive victories in all competitions. The leader of the Premier, who will be champion in a matter of time except for a historical accident, fell after finishing 29 times on goal against Leeds who replied with two shots, all to the net.
“In the last day of the Champions League we saw Bayern finish more than 30 times and they lost against PSG who finished four times,” Guardiola said after his team’s defeat. “When you lose like this you realize how difficult it is to do what we have done in recent months, when we came from losing a match of 27 [frente al United en Old Trafford]”.
The City never felt comfortable in a game that had all the ingredients of the transition procedures. Guardiola made rotations to refresh his most worn players, in anticipation of the trip to Dortmund next Wednesday to settle the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Either because the players not used to agreeing took time to understand each other, or because Leeds knew how to manage themselves with the greatest efficiency imaginable, the host did not even manage to take advantage of the expulsion of Liam Cooper in the 46th minute, for a ferocious tackle on Gabriel Jesús.
Bielsa bent her neck and began to curse as she circled around the technical zone. He had spent the previous minutes asking his boys not to do what Cooer had just perpetrated. “Don’t need it! No need! ”He shouted, in an attempt to avoid set pieces. Seeing Cooper’s entry, in a play that had not even reached the category of approach, the coach was overcome with rage.
Leeds had gone ahead minutes before falling behind, precisely with a long pitch from Cooper that Cancelo was unable to clear at the first time. The City players had swung towards Cooper, leaving a huge wasteland between Ederson and his defenders, and Cancelo’s duel with Helder Costa took on a disproportionate relief. Once the ball bounced, the risks soared, Helder Costa retained possession of the rebound, and Stones failed to assist his side in time. Costa’s pass went to the area, where Bamford gave it round to Stuart Dallas. The Northern Irishman, a man of the afternoon at the Etihad, arrived from behind without being pursued by Bernardo Silva or covered by Fernandinho. Taking advantage of a moment of hesitation, or relaxation, in those who had to mark him, he hit the right hand close to the stick. It was Leeds’ first shot on goal and it was 0-1.
Leeds, who had known how to play very well by throwing Raphinha and Costa behind the opponent’s wings, did not shoot between the three sticks again until the 91st minute. Along the way they received 29 shots on goal. He lived under siege, with Diego Llorente and Kalvin Phillips multiplying in front of an opponent who, relieved after Cooper’s expulsion, compensated for his lack of lucidity in combinations with a great sense of sacrifice. The City did not stop moving pieces in all the quadrants in search of the uncheck. He only got one goal, the consequence of a good move by Ferran Torres played with genius by Bernardo Silva, who assisted him immediately. The draw was the only joy the City players indulged in under the deceptive Manchester sun.
Guardiola withdrew center-back Nathan Aké and left-back Benjamin Mendy to introduce Foden and Gündogan, a winger and a playmaker. It was a double corkscrew. A bet multiplied by going for victory with two of its most decisive players. As the only network, City deployed Fernandinho with Cancelo and Stones.
“Against Leeds it’s difficult because they are used to winning hand-to-hand matches; You beat them and they face you again, they insist over and over again ”, explained the City coach. “They enjoy games with a lot of transitions. If you want to beat them, you must first control them so as not to let them run, especially Raphinha and Costa. When we are eleven against ten we control them for 40 minutes. When we stopped controlling them and they ran, they gave us 1-2 ″.
There was a passageway to victory and Leeds discovered it in the dark. It was not with a backlash. It was thanks to an elaborate play and fought by a tireless team against another that had lost its composure. Bernardo was a second late to pressure on Alioski and the Macedonian had time to put in all three toes of his left foot to send the ball ahead to Dallas. It was a great pass. As big as Dallas’ fight to win the position over the Stones. For a second the midfielder and the defender fought hand to hand as the ball rolled into the City area. As in street parties, everything was settled in a heads-up. Dallas touched her first, adjusted her, and when she seemed unbalanced he finished off with the last drop of energy that should be left. The shot passed between Ederson’s legs and hit the net as Dallas called his teammates euphoric to celebrate one of the most incredible victories of this Premier season.
In the second game of the day, Liverpool beat Aston Villa (2-1) at Anfield. The reigning champion had just gone through a streak of eight league games without being able to win in his own stadium. The Villa was about to prolong the ignominy. It was Alexander-Arnold, in the 91st minute, who broke the equality with a whiplash from outside the area, exactly after Emiliano Martínez, the goalkeeper, cleared a very violent shot from Thiago Alcántara with a scissors, one touch. Two fireballs in two seconds Liverpool needed to beat the Argentine goal.
Klopp kept rotating players. After the defeat in Valdebebas (3-1) and four days after receiving Madrid to solve the quarter-final crossing, the German coach returned to reserve Thiago in a midfield that was integrated by Fabinho, Wijnaldun and Millner, he left on the bench to Mané, and formed Jota en punta with Firmino and Salah. The formula could serve to relieve swollen legs but it did not enhance the creativity of the team. Barely efficient at pressing, Liverpool related to the ball in a sterile, snot imaginative and imprecise way. Only the entry of Thiago 15 minutes from the end gave Liverpool the touch of depth and good taste that, a bit desperate, gave him the winning goal.