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Manchester City 7 v 0 Leeds United
Barclays Premier League
Tuesday, 14th December 2021 Kick-off 20:00
Bielsa takes the rap for a painful night at the Etihad
Wednesday, 15th Dec 2021 22:22 by Tim Whelan

This game was everything we feared could happen when our makeshift defence came up against the expensively assembled superstars of Manchester City. But at least our fans were magnificent from start to finish.

As I arrived at the Etihad I was quite optimistic that we could repeat the battling performance against top opposition that we produced on Saturday. How wrong I was! But at least when you’re sitting up in the gods in one of the home stands it helps to keep quiet when there isn’t a lot to shout about.

Marcello Bielsa opted to keep the same starting line from the Chelsea game, which meant that with three central defenders injured Ayling was playing at centre half with Shackleton at right back. I would have preferred to have young Charlie Cresswell in the centre after his fine performance against West Ham, which would at least have allowed everyone to play in their best position.

And it didn’t help that while our injury crisis continued, our illustrious hosts had Kevin De Bruyne back from his own fitness problems, and that this was the game when his season finally clicked into gear. In the first few minutes the Belgian’s cross found Bernado Silva right in front of goal, but just when I thought he was certain to score, the Spaniard unaccountably put the ball wide.

In direct contrast, Foden’s shot opened the scoring in the 7th minute when I thought Dallas was about to clear it off the line. The Ulsterman had the shot covered, but tried to put his laces through it instead of concentrating on the basics of making contact with the ball, and it bounced off his standing leg into the net. With two fellow defenders in front of him there was no need to belt it, as they could have dealt with the rebound if he’d just blocked it.

A few minutes later we became the first ever victims of a Jack Grealish header. That owed much to the quality of the cross that Mahrez sent in from the right, but we’d have had more chance of dealing with it if we’d had more quality in central defence. Like young Cresswell. Having gone two down early on we had no choice but to try and come out and chase the game, but that just left us even more open at the back.

By now I was obviously fearing the worst, and having noted that the first two goals came in 13 minutes, I celebrated when we got through another 13 with no further damage. And we did have one or two moments at the other end. Forshaw tried to catch Ederson out with a quick free kick when the Brazilian was well off his line, but failed to get the distance he needed on the shot.

On half an hour we had a shout for handball against Zinchenko in the box that must have been as much of a penalty as the once City got against Wolves on Saturday, but VAR didn’t oblige. Against such opposition we didn’t need the decisions to go against us, but we had another one a few minutes later.

Raphinha seemed to have been fouled when he made his way down the right, but City were allowed to take possession and continue. Their move ended with Rodri playing a perfect through ball to De Bruyne, who slotted it past Meslier from a narrow angle. Before half time we had to make a change, with Shackleton limping off, with Klich coming on and Dallas moving to right back.

I did hope City might declare at half-time, and save their energy for sterner battles by settling for 3-0. But no. In the 49th minute they made it four, when Firpo got a block on a shot from Mahrez, but the deflection spun into the far corner in slow motion with Meslier completely wrong-footed. Despite our continuing misfortune, most of the noise I could hear was still from the 3,000 Leeds fans, even though I was the other side of the halfway line.

And we did look quite good going forward in the second half. Roberts was inches away from getting the touch he needed right in front of goal and Dallas sent a shot crashing of a post as he tried to repeat his heroics of last season. But more than once I was cursing Harrison for trying to be too clever instead of playing a simple ball to Klich, after the Pole had raced into a good shooting position.

Gelhart had replaced James at half-time, after the Welshman had struggled to get into the game playing out of position in the centre. And the young man looked lively as ever, though he seemed a little too eager to try to dribble through a pack of world class defenders instead of to look for a pass to his colleagues.

Harrison sent a shot narrowly wide on the hour, but all of this was to no avail. One of City’s last three goals came when Raphinha was dispossessed trying to go forward, but I’ve forgotten which, as when you see so many goals they all blend into one. We had a brief respite when a linesman’s flag ruled out another Foden goal for offside, and survived an agonising review of the decision by VAR.

But it made no difference, as moments later De Bruyne was left free to shoot from thirty yards, and sent a powerful strike swerving past Meslier as our noble custodian dived past it. “That one’s a goal” was the sarcastic comment from City’s stadium announcer. Meslier was unlucky again in the 74th minute, when he made a great double save from Laporte and Stones but was left powerless when the ball came back for Stones to power into the roof of the net.

By now Drameh had come on for Firpo, so Dallas needed to move over to the left to play in his third position of the night. This reshuffling at the back was to no avail, as four minutes later Ake was left unmarked to complete City’s scoring with a simple header. Despite all this the Leeds fans kept on singing. “Na na na na na, football in a library!”

Well before the end the City fans were leaving in droves now that the issue was well beyond any doubt, and up in the posh seats I ended up with a whole row to myself! Ok, there were one or two Leeds fans who left as well. There were chances for City to add to our embarrassment in the time that remained, but thankfully we restricted them to just the seven.

As it was, this was the heaviest defeat I have seen Leeds suffer in all our games I’ve seen since 1971, but at least it wasn’t the biggest winning margin I’ve seen in any game, or even by a Guadiola side. Both those records are held by the Barcelona’s 8-0 win over a hapless Osasuna while I was on holiday in the Catalan capital in 2011.

I stayed to the end to see what reception the Leeds fans would give the team as the players went to thank them for support at the end. And they didn’t disappoint, by cheering them off as a couple of players donated their shirts to the crowd. So it’s a shame that we can’t be quite as proud as some of our so-called fans on social media.

The first thing we ought to acknowledge is that at least we were thrashed by a very good side, but that hasn’t stopped some people berating individual players or saying that it’s time for Bielsa to go. At least the man himself was willing to take responsibility when he spoke to LUTV, despite the good moments we had in the game, and the unlucky breaks that led to a couple of the goals.

“There’s nothing positive to take away from our performance, I can’t find anything that can be valued. When there is nothing that is well done it’s not the individualities that fail, but the conduction, the organisation, there’s no justification I can offer. The game was exactly how we thought it was going to be. We prepared ourselves to avoid everything that happened.”

“And as there is nothing to rescue or take from it in the individual and collective, it’s inevitable I have to take the responsibility for a defeat of this type. We’ve never had a performance like the one today.” Which is generous of him, but let’s not forget where we were when he took over and how far we’ve come with him in charge.

We could have done without the damage to our goal difference, but we knew when we came up we would have some difficult games against the top clubs with super-wealthy owners. It’s not games like this that will define our season, but the battles with the teams around us in the table. So let’s show the spirit of the magnificent fans we had inside the Etihad and roar the team on when we play the Arse on Saturday. MOT!


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