Leeds United vs Manchester City – Clash of The Tactical Masterminds

The match between Leeds United and Machester City at Elland road was anticipated to be a big tactical battle between Marcelo Bielsa and Pep Guardiola, and it did not disappoint. Both teams were set up to win the match, and it was to be seen whose tactics would come out on top. The game ended 1-1, as both managers were successful in cancelling out their opponents. Let’s jump into the tactical analysis of the game.

Formations
Pep Guardiola set up his team in a 4-3-3 formation, with newcomer Ruben Dias partnering Laporte in the center of defense. Mendy and Walker were the full backs, and Rodri played as the CDM with De Bruyne and Phil Foden playing as RCM and LCM respectively. Once again due to the absence of an established center-forward, City this time tried something new, with Sterling and Ferran Torres on the wings, and Riyad Mahrez playing as the false 9. However, when they attacked, their shape was not very symmetrical, with Walker tucking in towards the center to support the midfielders, while Mendy was in a more attacking role providing width on the left. This meant that Sterling would be a little more central trying to link up with Mahrez with De Bruyne coming forward to occupy any one of Leeds’ center-backs. Ferran Torres on the other hand stayed on the wings due to Walker not getting as forward as Mendy.
Leeds United started with Bielsa’s favored formation of 4–1–4–1 with the only major change being Alioski who replaced Jack Harrison as he wasn’t allowed to play against his parent club Man City. In possession or during their high press, Leeds would shift to a 4–2–3–1 shape, with Phillips and Klich staying central while Roberts going forward to support Bamford, and Helder Costa and Alioski operating on the wings. Bielsa set up his team to be very organized to face Manchester City, knowing the quality they possess in terms of individual talent. But, Bielsa’s tactical brilliance was enough to neutralize the City’s highly-rated squad.

Manchester City’s Press and Wing Play
In the early stages of the game, the major key to the game was City’s high press and involvement at the wings. Especially during goal kicks, City were adamant to press high up the field, with Ferran Torres and Sterling tasked to eliminate the full-backs by cutting out any possible pass to them. Mahrez was tasked to cover shadow Phillips and cut him out from receiving the pass. In this way, City were able to stop Leeds’ build-up play early on. When City gained possession, they tried to play in their wingers so that they would engage in one on ones against the full-backs. High pressing from Sterling, Mahrez, and Ferran led Leeds’ players to drop their composure and forced them to clear early instead of building from the back. The city players were always trying to quickly shift wings so that their wingers could exploit the space in the wide areas. Both the wingers were moving around and running diagonals to draw the central defenders with them. This was how City got their opening goal through Sterling on 17 minutes.

Leeds United’s Varied Build-ups and Continuous Press
After conceding the first goal, Bielsa’s team slowly started to settle into the game, and brought many variations in their build-up, and also showed more accuracy with their long passes. As a result, Manchester City were forced back allowing Leeds to started more effective pressing as the game carried on. As Leeds started to be more focused and create chances, City got back and started playing more with a mid-block trying to stop Leeds from creating chances through the center. This gave Leeds more space to start building from the back, giving more opportunity to Klich and Phillips to find pockets of spaces in between the lines. They in turn were able to find their full-backs on the run, forcing City to go deeper into their own half. The possession completed shifted from City’s dominance to an equal distribution. As the game progressed, Leeds were able to ut more and more pressure on City.

Second Half
Into the second half, Bielsa’s side looked to be more confident having more possession in City’s half. Meanwhile, City looked like they wanted to protect their lead and played with a negative approach early in the second half. Bielsa replaced Alioski with Ian Poveda, who was more involved in the game. 10 minutes into the second half, he then replaced Tyler Roberts with Rodrigo. The constant pressure allowed Leeds to get their equalizer at the hour mark through a corner, which City were unable to clear, and the former Valencia man Rodrigo was able to pounce and score. Once the score was back on level terms, the game opened up completely, with both teams creating plenty of chances but were unable to find the winning goal. Leeds got the better chances late into the game, with Rodrigo coming very close to getting the winner with his head.
This game can be termed as a highly credible result for Leeds, who could have even clinched a victory if not for the heroics of Ederson in Manchester City’s goal. Leeds showed great intensity throughout the game, and surprisingly City were not able to match it in most parts of the game. To draw a conclusion from the game, Bielsa can be seen as a coach who is not much worried about what his opponents can do while attacking and was more focused on what he wanted his team to do. This could be seen in both his games against top teams Liverpool and City. On the other side, Pep should be worried as his team hasn’t been able to click and perform at high levels this season as they have been missing a proper number 9. All in all, with the table wide open and almost all big teams dropping points, this match week showed why the Premier League is termed as the best in the world.

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