And so the dance goes on. Liverpool win and then Manchester City win. Same as it ever was. No one blinks and no one breaks. Liverpool win amid the sound and the rebirth and the sportswashing at Newcastle. City win amid the fervour, the hostility and the relegation nerves at Leeds. And City keep their noses in front. And the finishing line draws a little bit closer.
We have been here before, three years ago. We spent a good chunk of that spring of 2019 season waiting for City to crack as well. That was the season of Vincent Kompany’s goal against Leicester City, which seemed to banish the last hint of vulnerability in Pep Guardiola’s side. City didn’t crack then and so far, there is precious little sign they will crack now.
Even amid the habitual fury and loathing at Elland Road that greets any side that ventures across the Pennines, City were not discomforted. They took everything that Leeds could throw at them and gave it back in goals. They showed they could fight for the title as well as paint pretty pictures in its pursuit and they emerged from the test proud, unbowed and, once more, one point ahead of Liverpool with four games left to play.
Manchester City returned to the top of the Premier League with a 4-0 victory over Leeds at Elland Road
Rodrigo opened the scoring for City after 13 minutes as he headed home from Phil Foden’s inviting free kick delivery
Nathan Ake doubled the visitors’ lead after the break after Ruben Dias teed him up with a head from Foden’s long corner
City were superb. Let’s face it, they usually are. Phil Foden is growing in stature and poise with every game he plays and it is easier and easier to see in him a player who could soon be one of the world’s very best, a young man with magic and wonder in his boots. There were times when Leeds had no answer to him. Raheem Sterling tormented their defence, too. City’s own backfour was impregnable.
Leeds United (5-4-1): Meslier 6.5; Dallas 5.5 (James 45), Ayling 5.5, Koch 6, Struijk 6, Firpo 6 (Gelhardt 62, 7); Raphinha 7, Phillips 7, Klich 5.5, Harrison 6; Rodrigo 6(Greenwood 83)
Subs not used: Klaesson, Llorente, James, Bate, Cresswell, Shackleton
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Ederson 7; Cancelo 7, Dias 8, Laporte 8, Ake 8 (Zinchenko 60, 6); Rodri 8 (Fernandinho 83), Gundogan 7; Sterling 7.5, Foden 9 (Silva 80), Grealish 7; Jesus 8
Subs not used: Steffen, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Egan-Riley, Mbete, McAtee
Referee: Paul Tierney 4
Guardiola and his team must negotiate matches against Newcastle, Wolves, West Ham and Aston Villa to be sure of retaining their title and depriving Liverpool of at least one leg of their attempted Quadruple. The way they are playing, it is hard to see them dropping a point, although the more superstitious among their fans worry about the last game of the season at Villa Park against a team managed by Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard.
Leeds have other concerns. This was a particularly bleak evening for them where the bad news came rolling in before the match even started. Burnley’s late win at Watford lifted them above Jesse Marsch’s team and left Leeds dangling one place above the drop zone. Everton, the team below them, are five points back but have two games in hand.
Nothing went right for the home team. Their skipper, Liam Cooper, was injured in the warm-up, Stuart Dallas was carried off on a stretcher, Marsch was booked by referee Paul Tierney and their goal difference took a pasting. Marsch walked off at the end, punching the air in exhilaration as the Leeds fans chanted their defiance. It felt like rather a strange reaction to a 4-0 demolition.
The first chance had gone to Leeds in the fourth minute. It was a gift from the champions. Joao Cancelo, one of City’s best players this season, controlled a Leeds clearance on the half-way line. He was standing alone initially but as Leeds players bore down on him, he slipped. Rodrigo could scarcely believe his luck and sprinted towards goal but he was gradually overhauled and when he finally got his shot in, Ruben Dias had got back to block it.
The crowd roared its encouragement and the Leeds players responded, mostly, with muscularity in the tackle. There were times when City must have wondered if they were back in the Wanda Metropolitano with Atletico Madrid flying at them. Jack Grealish and Foden were singled out for repetitive fouling. Junior Firpo soon had his name taken.
Stuart Dallas (left) flew into the back of Jack Grealish (right) at a rapid pace and caused himself damage in the process
The Northern Irishman looked to be in considerable pain with team-mate Kalvin Phillips not leaving his side as he was treated
The Leeds man was eventually stretchered off to a standing ovation and cheers of ‘There’s only one Stuart Dallas’ from fans
Leeds manager Jesse Marsch found himself booked for the antics of his backroom staff on the sidelines by Paul Tierney (right)
After nearly a quarter of an hour, Stuart Dallas brought Raheem Sterling down as he knocked the ball past him. Foden swung the ball in from close to the left touchline and Rodri timed his run across the face of the Leeds defence perfectly, rose above Kalvin Phillips and glanced his header past Illan Meslier to put the visitors ahead.
The biggest cheer of the half arrived a few minutes later when Grealish, whose only sin until that point was to have been kicked up in the air a few times, brought down Dallas as he burst out of his own half, and was booked by Mr Tierney. Tierney was berated regularly by Leeds fans but, if anything, he was overly lenient with some of Leeds’ wilder challenges.
The game was halted for several minutes before half time after a clash of heads between Robin Koch and Aymeric Laporte. Laporte appeared particularly groggy but as is often the way with football, it was decided that both players had somehow avoided being concussed. And so both men were allowed to play on. It continues to be a very bad look for the game.
Aymeric Laporte (centre) and Robin Koch (second right) clashed heads as they both went for a Leeds ball into the box
Both players were down for a considerable time with the City defender motionless for over two minutes
City were still in complete control although Guardiola appeared in turns mystified and angry when Grealish hoofed a clearance towards the heavens when he had time and space to control it and find a teammate. It was very un-City. Very un-Pep. It was another symbol of the fact that Grealish is still struggling to thrive at his new club.
City nearly went further ahead two minutes before half time when Luke Ayling trod on the ball in the Leeds box and fell over. It ran loose to Gabriel Jesus, who rolled it to Sterling but his shot was blocked by Koch and after some pinball in the area, it was cleared. Ayling raised a hand in thanks and apology to his teammates.
On the stroke of half-time, Dallas and Grealish both went for the same ball near half way. Grealish got to it first and Dallas collided with him and sent the City midfielder flying into the air. Both men lay spread-eagled on the turf but Grealish soon got up. Dallas did not. He was carried off on a stretcher amid obvious concern from his teammates and replaced by Daniel James.
Gabriel Jesus did not hesitate to pull the trigger for the third as Foden found him in the centre of the box with a sublime pass
Fernandinho compounded Leeds’ misery as he snatched a late fourth in injury time, slotting it into the bottom left corner
After Sterling had nearly scored with a dancing run and shot that was blocked on the edge of the six-yard box early in the second half, City duly extended their lead from the resulting corner. Foden lifted the kick to the back post where Ruben Dias nodded it down. Nathan Ake reacted before Pascal Struijk and swept it past Meslier from close range.
City wrapped it up 12 minutes from time with a beautifully executed third goal. Ederson lashed a pinpoint pass from his area which arced towards Cancelo on the right and Cancelo ran forward to meet it, chesting it into the path of Foden. Foden took a touch and then slid another pinpoint pass to Gabriel Jesus who had ghosted into the box. Jesus controlled it and drilled it right-footed past Meslier.
After Ederson had saved brilliantly from substitute Joe Gelhardt in the closing stages, Fernandinho, a second half City replacement, added some more gloss to City’s evening when he capitalised on the chaos Sterling had caused in the area and drilled a low shot past Meslier from 20 yards to make it 4-0. Liverpool march on but so do Manchester City.