‘I’m not sure that any Championship side could have stopped City’ – Robin Sainty
PUBLISHED: 12:00 09 February 2019
I’ve had some great moments watching City over the years, but Saturday evening was right up there with the best.
To go to a packed and hostile Elland Road and beat the hosts at their own game showed not just how far this team have developed but also the continued growth of Daniel Farke as a tactician.
There is a narrative, regularly nourished by Sky Sports’ apparent obsession with him, that Marcelo Bielsa is some sort of managerial deity whose every move and utterance are worthy of analysis, but he was comprehensively out-thought and out-manoeuvred by Farke last week.
Ever since the reports of Leeds spying on opponents were made public by Derby County, Bielsa seems to have lost focus, and his team are suffering as a result. First we had that bizarre (and totally unnecessary) press conference where he turned up the spotlight on his club by volunteering the information that rather than just spy on Derby he had actually done so on all of Leeds’ other opponents, and then his decision to name his starting line-up for the game with City two days in advance which struck me at the time as a piece of rather pointless posturing.
Perhaps if he had spent more time on preparing his side rather than trying to play mind games we could have seen a different result, but I’m not sure that any Championship side could have stopped City in the mood they were in on Saturday evening.
Eschewing their normal style of controlling the ball for extended periods, City were initially happy to cede ground to Leeds, and even to surrender possession by knocking long balls into space when nothing better was on.
At first that looked like sloppiness or panic, but as the game progressed it became apparent that the fact that Leeds were largely hitting brick walls around City’s box and then having to start again from deep positions was preventing them from developing any rhythm or sustained pressure, something that was exacerbated by City’s selective use of the pressing game with home players never quite sure when they would be given time on the ball and when they would be closed down quickly.
However, it wasn’t just a case of hard graft from City; there was plenty of class too, with Mario Vrancic producing what may well have been his best performance in a City shirt, and Emi Buendia and Onel Hernandez wriggling out of more tight spots than Harry Houdini.
By the end, and in the face of some high-class game management from City, Leeds had utterly lost their discipline, with Barry Douglas repeatedly targeting Buendia as the little Argentinian maestro continued to torment the home side, and the team that had looked likely to sweep all before it at Carrow Road in August was suddenly looking distinctly mortal.
Week after week City players have stood up to be counted and Mo Leitner and Timm Klose may have to wait a while to get back into the side because who could be dropped to make way?
With the teams just below them involved in games against each other this month City have put themselves into a fabulous position, but this weekend’s derby presents a classic banana skin.
We all know that Paul Lambert’s side will be fired up and that league positions mean little in derbies, but if City can maintain last week’s level of intensity I can’t see Ipswich being able to live with them.
Hopefully the crowd won’t give Lambert much attention, because we know that he thrives on animosity and uses it as motivation, but rather concentrates on getting behind Farke and his team.
One of the many outstanding things about City this season has been their ability to handle pressure and having silenced 35,000 rabid, scarf twirling Leeds fans last weekend the derby shouldn’t worry them.