LEEDS UNITED 0, MAN CITY 4
Manchester City are four wins from retaining their Premier League title after comfortably negotiating a potentially difficult hurdle at Leeds United.
City, who had earlier in the day had lost top spot to Liverpool, regained it in style with a four-goal blitz at Elland Road where they inflicted a first defeat on new Leeds manager Jesse Marsch who hadn’t lost in his first five games.
And in what promises to be a thrilling finish to the season, City also clawed back an inferior goal difference to Liverpool which they reduced from five to one.
City sealed victory with goals from Rodri, Nathan Ake, Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho on a day they left the mercurial Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez in reserve.
While City have become renowned for their attacking flair and flamboyance, many forget it has also been built on solid foundations.
This was a fifth successive away clean sheet in the Premier League, the first time in the club’s history they have achieved this in the league.Embed from Getty Images
City manager Pep Guardiola said: “All the players were fantastic with the difficulty we faced. We scored and then suffered a lot in the last 25 minutes of the first half.
“After Nathan scored our second goal, we controlled the game more and created a lot of chances. We played a really good game.
“The last time I came here was behind closed doors. It’s the first time I’m here at Elland Road with the people. I’ve heard many, many times about the support and, when they have transitions, they become crazy. It was a joy to be here for the first time.”
And on the title race, Guardiola added: “We have been many times in this position. It’s not about the pressure – it’s simple. We have to win all our games to be champions. If we don’t, Liverpool will be champions.
“There’s a lot of tough games to play. We now have to recover well and go to Madrid for the Champions League. That’s all.”
Marsch said: “The result was worse than we hoped but the performance was better.
“We played with confidence. It didn’t feel like a 4-0 match.
“We had momentum and controlled their movements. It’s disappointing to lose so big but even the fans and the way they responded after the game is a reflection of what the performance was.
“I wasn’t being sarcastic when I said it was the best team against the best club. I’ve never seen supporters who love their club so deeply. I feel it on the streets, in the stadium. We’re doing everything we can to make sure we can stay in this league. We’re in for a fight but we’re up for it.”
City made five changes from the 4-3 win against Real Madrid in the Champions League in midweek.
Joao Cancelo returned from suspension while Ake, Raheem Sterling, Ilkay Gundogan and Jack Grealish all started
De Bruyne was on the bench while John Stones missed out through injury.
Leeds made four changes from the side that drew with Crystal Palace last time out.
Junior Firpo, Robin Koch, Pascal Struijk and Mateusz Klich were the players to come in for the hosts with Klich replacing captain Liam Cooper who was injured in the warm-up.
City had an early let-off following a slip by Joao Cancelo on the half-way line which allowed Rodrigo to burst clean through, but the Spaniard did not have the pace as Ilkay Gundogan got back to cover.
It was not long before City made the breakthrough in the 13th minute with a goal of simplicity.
Rodri glanced home a header from six yards following Phil Foden’s free kick from the left for his fifth goal of the season.
Leeds weathered the storm and gradually began to gain a foothold in the game, Junior Firpo firing over from the left of the box when he ought to have hit the target, the home side’s clearest chance if the game in the 35th minute.
A slip by Luke Ayling presented a chance to City but the right back saved the day by blocking Sterling’s shot.
There was almost eight minutes injury time as early in the game there was a lengthy stoppage following a clash of heads involving Robin Koch and Aymeric Laporte. Then in stoppage time there was a further one as Stuart Dallas left the field on a stretcher with a serious knee injury after a coming together with Grealish
It was a long way back for Leeds after City doubled their lead eight minutes after the restart through left-back Ake.
Foden’s corner to the far post was headed back across the face of goal for Ake to steer home a low shot from six yards for his third goal of the season, two against Leeds and one against Marsch’s RB Leipzig.
It was the 18th set-piece goal Leeds have conceded this season, more than Leicester with 17.
Ake, who appeared to have picked up a knock, was replaced after an hour by Oleksandr Zinchenko.
City made absolutely certain of victory when they scored their third goal with 12 minutes left.
Foden’s defence-splitting pass released Jesus who raced through the middle to score with ease of a player in red-hot form.
It was the Brazilian’s sixth goal in the last three games and 13th for the season.
The game won, Guardiola took off Foden and Rodri who were replaced by Bernardo Silva and Fernandinho.
Cancelo and Gundogan had chanced to add a fourth goal which eventually came in the third and final minute of stoppage time.
City had a penalty appeal waved away for a challenge on Sterling but the ball was only cleared by Pascal Struijk as far as Fernandinho who found the net with a low shot from the edge of the D.
It was the 20th goal Leeds had conceded against the Manchester teams this season, no team have ever let it so many against City and United in one season.
Yet in the latter stages, City also had to defend resolutely to keep a clean sheet.
Substitute Daniel James burst through on goal and rounded Ederson only to see his angled shot blocked on the line as was the follow-up shot with Cancelo and Zinchenko making the crucial interventions.
Joe Gelhardt, also a substitute, was also denied by a great block by the legs of Ederson as City’s defended well when they needed to for the first time in the dying minutes.