LEEDS 1-3 MAN CITY: The champions cut the gap to Arsenal to five points on their return to Premier League action as Rodri and Erling Haaland found the net at Leeds
Manchester City got back to winning ways on their Premier League return as they picked up three points at Leeds.
Erling Haaland scored a brace in the city of his birth with his father in attendance at Elland Road. The Norwegian spurned two first-half chances but atoned later on with two simple finishes, both assisted by Jack Grealish. Rodri opened the scoring by finishing off a neat move just before the interval.
Leeds were largely outplayed on their own patch as they continue to hover just above the relegation zone but grew into the game in front of their home fans, who were given a glimmer of hope when Pascal Struijk headed home with 17 minutes remaining, but there would be no grandstand finish.
Here are five talking points from a simple City win.
1 Little room for error
Games in hand aside, no defending champion wants to look at the league table and see an eight point gulf between themselves and the pacesetters. That though as City’s reality as they saw Arsenal extend their lead at the top with a win over West Ham.
More than half the season remains and they must face the Gunners twice, but you still get a sense that Guardiola and co cannot afford to let the youngsters from north London get too far in front. That was why the three points at Leeds was so needed.
City warmed up impressively with a win over Liverpool in the cup last week and their success in west Yorkshire will have been most welcome as they remain in touch at the top. A challenging January lies in wait and the champions can ill afford to drop too many points.
2 Deja vu for Leeds
Far too often this term Leeds have been given credit for their performances, even if they picked up no points. This was another one of those displays that had the ingredients without the finish. City were always going to dominate the game, but the hosts did everything you have to do to keep an opponent like that at bay.
They rode their luck at times, needed their goalkeeper to step up and offered something on the break. Ultimately though untimely lapses in concentration and defensive errors allowed the visitors to pick up a simple three points.
Leeds performed well game against Liverpool and Tottenham before the break and will want to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle with the safety of mid-table not a million miles away.
3 Rico’s rise
He’s enjoyed quite the ascent since scoring in the Champions League against Sevilla several months ago. The academy product, who must’ve wondered how he would dislodge Kyle Walker in the City starting XI, saw his efforts in the cup competitions rewarded at Elland Road.
Rico Lewis became the youngest City player to start a league game since Micah Richards way back in 2006. Lewis also impressed in the recent Carabao Cup win over Liverpool, but his unique role against Leeds highlighted the faith Guardiola must have in him.
Having played as a right-back, Lewis was deployed as more of a central midfield, sitting alongside the usual anchor Rodri. It allowed the teenager to showcase his distribution skills whilst he also embarked on the odd mazy run. Walker watched on from the bench and, whilst he’s a pillar of this City side, Lewis is beginning to offer food for thought.
4 Phillips’ return
The midfielder left Yorkshire largely with the blessing of everyone at Leeds, including the fans. He’d taken the Whites from the Championship to the top flight and, after becoming an England international, opted for a switch to the Ethiad, which will no doubt see him add further silverware.
Just how much of a role he’ll play in those successes though remains to be seen. Many questioned whether he’d be able to usurp Rodri, who has been a regular since his arrival. Phillips has struggled with injury, but even when fit minutes have been at a premium and now Guardiola is calling out his physique.
Phillips was named the Yorkshire Pirlo when he wore the white of Leeds, but no longer enjoys that Messiah status in Manchester. He will be desperate to not simply become a squad player at City, which at the moment, looks a real danger as he watched on from the bench at the group he once commanded.
5 Questions over Jack
With each passing game it looks as if Grealish is questioning his own future. The British transfer record has weighed heavy on the former Aston Villa star, who has been unable to replicate the form he showed so regularly in the Midlands.
Grealish has been in and out of the starting line-up throughout his time in Manchester, such is the competition for places, but when called upon looks like a player more afraid of making a mistake than anything else. At Leeds many of his passes would be deemed as negative ones, lacking ambition.
Even when presented with opportunities by the likes of De Bruyne he fluffed his lines with the goal at his mercy, which left Guardiola visibly frustrated on the touchline. He laid on Haaland, unselfishly, for City’s second, and then again for the third, but an unwanted narrative around his time at City fails to go away.