Manchester City suffer a snatch-and-grab 2-1 defeat to ten-man Leeds United on Saturday afternoon, after a dominant but largely dormant performance by the current league leaders.
Stuart Dallas’s double sunk Manchester City to their fourth league defeat of the season, with his second goal coming in the dying embers of the game. Ferran Torres drew Manchester City level in the 76th minute, but Leeds' two shots on target were enough to claim all three points.
Naturally, Pep Guardiola elected to heavily rotate the starting eleven following the excruciating first leg victory in midweek and in preparation for the second leg against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday night.
Many of the player were on display to stake a claim for their name to be involved in the big games on the horizon, but unfortunately most did not perform to their optimum. It’s a poor result of course, but one that fortunately does not rank high in the list of upcoming matches for Manchester City.
With that in mind, here are five things we learned from the defeat to Leeds...
Fernandinho & Stones MoTM
Even in a heavily rotated side, the starting eleven was full of exceptional international quality - and yet, John Stones and Fernandinho were head and shoulders ahead of the rest in sky blue, both on and off the ball.
In the first half, they defended well and Fernandinho was the only real creative thrust for anything the side did well going forward. In the second half, it was Stones who took on the creative mantle and stepped up into midfield as Leeds sat further off as the second half dragged on.
Both showed the only real promise or conviction to get on the ball and actually make things happen, carrying or passing the ball forward at every opportunity. Unfortunately, their charisma and attacking intent did not spur on their teammates to do the same.
Woeful individual performances
As stated earlier, this is not a game for Manchester City fans to lose their collective minds over, especially with a critical Champions League game coming up in mid-week, but there were certainly some alarming performances on Saturday - in a game where you’d hope they would put their name in the hat for upcoming key fixtures.
Raheem Sterling, Joao Cancelo, and Benjamin Mendy are the first three names that spring to mind on the aforementioned subject.
Sterling was someone who I believed was a shoo-in to come on Tuesday night in an effort to change the course of the game. But on the evidence today, Sterling rarely threatened going forward, too many wayward shots, one being a huge chance laid up by Fernandinho that he scuffed wide – a clear sign of a man out of form.
Cancelo again looked unconvincing and was at fault for the first goal, not sorting his feet out and failing to jockey Helder Costa well enough. Going forward he did not fare much better and his crossing was inept to say the least.
And Mendy. Not much more can be said about the Frenchman. After a very good performance against Leicester last weekend, the full back did not replicate that form and basically functioned as a lamp post out wide left in an effort to stretch the Leeds defence while offering no real threat going forward, even when pushed to left wing.
That said, while poor performances marred Manchester City’s efforts on Saturday, the collective approach in the second half was poor to say the least.
Leeds did defend deep and compact, but Manchester City never really got the ball moving quickly and effectively, to try and pull-out Leeds players from their shape and create openings in behind.
Whenever Manchester City look under par, slow tempo and a lack of rhythm usually are the crux of the issues. The ball rarely moved that quickly around the Leeds backline and there was very little dynamic movement off the ball to create space elsewhere.
Even with the introduction of Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden later in the second-half, two very dynamic players, Manchester City’s link up play never really shifted up a gear. Further to that, there never seemed to be any conviction in trying to beat a man, to try and get to the by-line, test the full backs.
It was all very safe and in front of the Leeds defence, slightly reminiscent of parts of the Borussia Dortmund game in midweek.
This was only a minor thing I noticed today against a very particular opponent but could be a sign of things to come.
Manchester City’s press in midweek did not work that well for parts and the defeat to Leeds was similar in the first half, when the game was essentially 11v11. Given Leeds’ excellence on the ball, Pep Guardiola chose for both wide forwards to shift inside and mark the centre-backs when Leeds goalkeeper Meslier was in possession, while Jesus shifted backward to mark lynchpin Kalvin Phillips - one of the key components to Marcelo Bielsa’s system.
However, that then left Leeds' full backs open and depended on Benjamin Mendy and Joao Cancelo pushing up to mark Alioski and Ayling. This would mean a man-marking system all over the park, similar to Gasparini’s Atalanta, that is usually a huge risk to take as you can be exposed against good dribblers.
And that was the case at times in the first-half, as Raphinha was found open or in a 2v1 situation with Benjamin Mendy left isolated. Maybe something similar will be deployed in midweek if Pep Guardiola goes with a false nine system again, rather than having Bernardo Silva shift up to join Kevin de Bruyne in the press.
De Bruyne could drop to make sure Emre Can and/or Jude Bellingham cannot get on the ball as easily as they did in the first leg...
Just a blip?
I am quietly confident this is just a blip and a performance we know too well from last season. The worry is simply the manner of the performance rather than the result.
None of us want to lose of course, but it was troubling that we never really tested Meslier in the Leeds goal a whole lot. It was slightly different to the West Brom draw at the Etihad earlier this season, where goalkeeper Sam Johnstone had a blinder.
We had a bucket load of chances on Saturday afternoon but had only a handful on target, most being comfortable saves for the Frenchman between the sticks. All that matters now is that this game is forgotten and all energy is focused on progressing through in the Champions League.
But who knows, on the balance of today’s performance - maybe we do need a new striker, perhaps of Norwegian origin?
You can follow Rob on Twitter here: @notherview
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