Pep Guardiola selected a near second-string Manchester City and saw his side fall to defeat in the dying moments against a 10-man Leeds side who may have allowed Manchester United to dream again of overhauling their local rivals.
The winner came when Stuart Dallas sprinted clear along the left and beat Ederson with as cool a finish as his opener, which had come as the break approached. City had been sucker-punched due to the siege they mounted on Leeds’ area following Liam Cooper’s deserved red card for a dangerous chop of Gabriel Jesus’s leg moments after Dallas’s opening goal.
This was only a second loss for City in their last 24 league outings, and with the games running out they remain firm favourites to claim the third title of Guardiola’s reign, requiring 11 points from six matches.
Still, the manager remains cautious. “We need points because our opponent can still win all of their games,” said Guardiola. “What happens when you lose a game – you realise then how difficult it is, what we have done before. When Liverpool lost a game at Anfield after three or four years [unbeaten] they realised how difficult it is, what they have done. Now we have to do it again.”
When Oleksandr Zinchenko and John Stones are the potent threats in Guardiola’s team, it points to the disjointedness caused by his seven changes. In leaving out Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Ilkay Gündogan, in particular, City’s manager had one eye on Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final second leg at Borussia Dortmund. Guardiola may, though, be accused of losing focus on a Leeds challenge that always promised to be awkward due to the “organised chaos” Marcelo Bielsa schools his players in.
Asked about his rotation, Guardiola said: “When you win you are a genius, when you lose [you are not]. I don’t have any regret about choosing any of them. John [Stones] was fantastic, all of them – Nathan [Aké], Benjamin [Mendy], Fernandinho. Our next four games, three are like finals – in the Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup.”
Chelsea are Saturday’s semi-final opponents in the FA Cup, while the following weekend City hope to beat Tottenham in the final of the latter.
On why City could not unlock Leeds, Guardiola said: “We were not aggressive enough. We arrived in the final positions but today we could not score [enough] goals. We didn’t create enough chances, but when we play teams that set up in that way, with the pace they have on the counterattack, we need to be careful. They have a team that in transition are fantastic, and I congratulate Leeds.
“We give [away] the first goal and after we created chances; not too many clear ones [though], because our crosses were not precise. If they win, they deserve it.”
By 73 minutes, both Foden and Gündogan had been introduced as Leeds continued to hold on to Dallas’s opener. That goal had come about from lax City focus that was evident throughout; Guardiola’s players always seeming half a pace from their sharpest form
The culprit for the opener was João Cancelo, whose wishy-washy defending of a high ball allowed Hélder Costa in along the left. Suddenly the winger found Patrick Bamford who tapped the ball to Dallas, whose 20-yard shot pinged in off Ederson’s right post.
From here, Leeds clung on until Foden entered, as his presence alongside Gündogan righted enough of City’s imbalance to finally penetrate the visitors’ defence. A Fernandinho surge ended with him rolling a simple pass to Bernardo Silva, who moved the ball on to Ferran Torres. His equaliser was emphatic.
Now it appeared that Leeds might wilt. Instead, stoppage time brought Dallas’s winner and Leeds ended the game deserving maximum credit for a scintillating win.
Bielsa, a mentor of Guardiola’s, said: “I didn’t beat Pep. It’s a game between two teams with the players being the predominant factors. We are just simply the two managers of the teams that faced each other today. We deserved to win but the just or fair thing would have been for City to win [too].”