No Pep in step as City lose more ground
Leeds United 1 Man City 1
This was a brilliant game of football, but Manchester City weren't laughing as two more points slipped away at Elland Road last night.
Leeds United and their guests served up a great game that could easily have ended up 4-4 as the two teams, in Brian Kerr's immortal word, 'battered' each other.
But Manchester City are now five points behind Liverpool, and eight behind Everton at the summit of the table.
It's a big gap and if it isn't yet desperation for Manchester City, they have already let an advantage grow to the top of the table, and Liverpool in particular.
Considering how few points these two clubs have dropped over their two-season epic battles for the title, that gap already represents a chasm in the table.
These were thus big stakes to be playing for in just the Sky Blues' third match of a 38-game campaign.
Teeming Yorkshire rain greeted the players for this much-awaited match and City did not begin it like a team under pressure.
Kevin de Bruyne struck a free-kick off the Leeds post as the former champions of England set out to make a point to the team who won the Championship last season.
They may have been wearing very dark shirts, but City's mood was bright as they set about spraying the ball around, literally so at times, and opening up the home defence.
And, yet, they were opened up themselves, with Leeds' defender Ezgjan Alioski putting a header over the City crossbar, when he really ought to have scored.
The pre-match talk about the respect between coaches Marcelo Bielsa and Pep Guardiola was one aspect of the build-up to the match.
Another was the fact that it would be an open contest between two teams who did not believe in shutting up shop.
So it proved, and it was a shock that it took until the 17th minute for Raheem Sterling to get the first goal of the match.
If Leeds did not know that they were playing among the big boys already, they found out as Sterling swept the ball to their net after a poor kick-out from goalkeeper Illan Meslier, and a bad touch from centre-back and skipper Liam Cooper.
It was Manchester City at their best, and perhaps Leeds should have anticipated that in the wake of City's 5-2 reverse against Leicester last weekend.
And, yet, Leeds ought to have gone in at half-time level. Wing-back Luke Ayling broke forward and took advantage of a terrible touch by his opposite number, Benjamin Mendy, to forge a one-on-one with Ederson in the visiting goal.
Ederson made the stop. But it was a situation when an in-form centre-forward like Patrick Bamford would surely have scored.
Leeds did not want their full-back Ayling having the chance.
Having a natural goalscorer on the end of an opening came right for Leeds just on the hour mark.
Rodrigo, all £27million worth of a substitute, jabbed the ball to the Manchester City net after Ederson had punched it clear from a corner instead of catching it.
All the Brazilian stopper did was hit the ball at Mendy, and it fell to Rodrigo, who scored.
Had Ederson tried to catch the ball and dropped it, you might have given him the 'bar-of-soap' excuse in the conditions.
But, no, he punched the ball into traffic and paid the price.
The teams began to throw punches at each other. Sterling and de Bruyne had chances for City, Cooper and Rodrigo were close to scoring, too.
Remarkably, particularly with the ball zipping off the Elland Road surface, no further goals were scored as this contest descended into a playground match of 'you have the ball and try to score and then we'll have a go'.
Eventually, Guardiola called a halt to the madness and brought on Fernandinho to put a spine into his midfield.
That Rihad Mahrez was the player to make way for Fernandinho spoke volumes for the way City were now thinking about this match.
Yet, as the minutes drifted towards full-time, Leeds' all-action pressing style began to tell and their players just weren't making the tackles and making the runs to cover.
Even with eight games less in the Premier League than the Championship, Leeds are going to find it hard to sustain this pace for the full grind at the top level of English football.
Especially when this season will be a month shorter than it usually would be.
Leeds clung on for their point and they are surely going to be the Premier League's great entertainers this season.
If there were fans to enjoy it all, they would be the team you wanted to see visit your home ground, because Bielsa's Leeds do not seem to have any notion of ever defending.
In two of their first four games in with the big boys, they have gone toe-to-toe with Liverpool and Manchester City and lived to tell the tale.
"We were at our limit to get that draw," said Bielsa afterwards, as he reflected on the outcome.
"We played well after the first phase, but this was a game that our players must learn from, this is the level."
For Manchester City, there is the worry that Liverpool, never mind any other club, are scooting out of sight at the top of the table.
The transfer window shuts tomorrow night. Will Guardiola make a late move to stiffen his squad?
What we saw last night suggests he ought to surge into action.
Yet, he was full of confidence after the match.
"With the pre-season we had, and all the injuries we have, I cannot ask any more of these players," he said.
"At times, they were brilliant here, and we should have scored more goals - we usually do.
"But I knew Leeds would come back, and it was a great game.
"Marcelo asked me at the end of the match what I thought of it and I said, 'I don't know, my head is still spinning'."
And he was not alone in that at the end of this breathless match!