Pep took a big ...could City do Gamble and lost a Devon Loch?
IT WOULD still take a collapse of Devon Loch proportions but if Manchester City somehow blow the Premier League title race, Grand National Day will be when it started.
Grand National Day and a Pep Guardiola gamble that backfired.
Make no mistake, Pep took a punt. Took a punt on Leeds United not being as highly motivated as they might be. Took a punt on the ability of
City’s B-listers, as harsh a definition as that might be.
And the punt did not pay off.
In fact, it failed spectacularly.
Having said that, Guardiola might feel his plan succeeded if a team that will have the likes of Kevin De
Bruyne restored to it
Britain’s best columnist at the Etihad Stadium
manages to finish the Champions League job against Borussia Dortmund in Germany on Wednesday. After all, the Premier League title is still nothing more than a formality, isn’t it?
Of course it is. It only won’t be if City are this slapdash and this complacent in every one of their remaining six Premier League fixtures. And if the manager fields this line-up a few more times.
With his lavish
squad, Guardiola would insist there is no such entity as a first-choice 11 at the Etihad.
He would be fibbing.
And most of that firstchoice 11 was in the stands here.
Guardiola would also tell you that a failure to win the Champions League with anyone other than Barcelona does not bother him.
Again, he would be fibbing. This was as close to a shadow side as you could get, the inclusion of BOTH Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko telling you that.
If you needed further proof, step forward Nathan
Ake – whose slight diversion of a Stuart Dallas shot gave Leeds an unlikely lead – for a first outing since Boxing Day.
With Joao Cancelo, badly at fault during the build-up to the first Dallas strike, reminding everyone he is not really a full-back, this was a vulnerable City backline.
But after they had exploited that weakness once, the chances of Leeds doing so again were reduced by Liam Cooper’s dismissal.
Somehow, there actually appeared to be a debate about Cooper’s red card on social media.
The only disappointing aspect to the dismissal was that the Leeds skipper had been in quite imperious form for the preceding 40-odd minutes.
His challenge on Gabriel Jesus was the definition of reckless. When producing the original yellow, Andre Marriner must have erred on the side of caution, knowing that VAR could help him out. You could almost see him wince when he watched one particular angle of the violent tackle.
When Cooper had calmed down, he was probably relieved Jesus had not been seriously injured.
And even more relieved that his team somehow held on until the 76th minute before conceding an equaliser to Ferran Torres and then, remarkably, won it in added time.
If there is a player whose excellence is not only testament to his own endeavour but also to the influence of Marcelo Bielsa, it is Dallas (left). In keeping with Kalvin Phillips, in keeping with Luke Ayling, in keeping with all of his team-mates, Dallas was simply magnificent.
He is a wonderful Premier League performer, with the drive, the energy, the ability and the composure to sprint clear in the 91st minute and guide his finish through Ederson’s legs.
His winner prompted Pep to angrily bounce his water off the deck a couple of times.
He has not lost his bottle but this was a rare misstep.
Yes, they should still have had enough to win the game, certainly against 10 men.
But Manchester United could reduce the gap to eight points before City next play.
It would still take one of the most surprising failures in modern sport for the title not to end up here…but never forget what happened to Devon Loch.