Man City hit Leeds for seven to extend Premier League run and go four points clear at top - Independent 14/12/21

Manchester City 7-0 Leeds United: De Bruyne, Foden, Grealish, Mahrez, Stones and Ake were all on target in a dazzling attacking display

Mark Critchley

It was after the fifth, we think, that all four sides of the Etihad spontaneously broke into the Poznan. That dance is only occasionally seen around these parts these days, saved by Manchester City supporters for special games, special performances and special goals. But then how else to describe Kevin De Bruyne’s spectacular 30-yard strike, which set Leeds United up to suffer the joint-worst defeat in their history?

De Bruyne’s stop-start season, disrupted by injury and Covid-19, has lift-off after his brace in an emphatic 7-0 battering. The defending champions and league leaders otherwise shared the bounty around, with Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Riyad Mahrez, John Stones and even Nathan Ake buttressing a goal difference figure that may make all the difference come the end of the season. And not just at the top of the table, either.

Marcelo Bielsa shares a lot of tactical principles with Pep Guardiola, as well as a stubborn refusal to compromise on those principles. It is admirable and anybody expecting anything different from Bielsa has not been paying attention. Yet given the chasm in ability between Leeds and the very best, the outcome of their meetings with those at the top of the table is often just as predictable.

Granted, that was not the case last season, when a late Stuart Dallas goal earned Leeds a famous victory at the Etihad. But things have changed since then. Bielsa and his players only need to look at the league table to realise that. As City ensured they will stay at the summit going into this weekend’s round of fixtures, Leeds are looking over their shoulder and could be just two points outside the relegation zone.

Injury-ravaged, Leeds were unchanged from their stoppage-time defeat at Stamford Bridge but City’s line-up was one of Guardiola’s typical head-scratchers. Kyle Walker was left out entirely due to not being fully fit and, with Joao Cancelo suspended, it was anyone’s guess who was playing at right-back. Out on the pitch, it was more straightforward. Stones shifted over to the right, while Foden started as the false nine.

And it was Foden who opened the scoring. In a neat illustration of just how free-flowing and fluid City’s play would be all evening, Rodri embarked on the first of many bursts through the middle of the pitch past helpless Leeds legs, only being blocked off by goalkeeper Illan Meslier. The ricochet landed neatly for Foden, who had hung back on the edge of the box, and his scooped attempt could not be cleared off the line by Dallas.

This was the 500th league goal scored by City under Guardiola in his 207th game in charge. No team has reached that figure faster under one manager during the Premier League era. And as if to keep things ticking along nicely, it took only five minutes for Grealish to set City on their way to the next milestone. It was something of a landmark moment for Grealish too, though.

There has been a little more scrutiny of Grealish of late, his meagre goal tally thrown into the spotlight by a poor miss in the victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend, but there was no miscue on this occasion. The £100m record signing was first to meet Mahrez’s inswinging cross from the right, applying enough power on his close-range header for the ball to burst through Meslier’s tame attempt to parry it away.

With barely a quarter of an hour gone, the game felt won, though there was little chance of Guardiola allowing his players to bed in for the evening. If anything, they became only more relentless, dictating the play deep inside Leeds territory. A solitary VAR review of a potential Oleksandr Zinchenko handball on the edge of the box was Leeds’ best moment of the first half. There was nothing given.

Minutes later, the irrepressible Rodri was play-making once again, picking out De Bruyne with a precise through ball down the inside-left channel that had enough pace to beat Leeds’ retreating defence but the finesse to fall onto the Belgian’s left. One sweep sent the ball under Meslier’s exasperated dive and in at the near post for a third. It was De Bruyne’s first goal in three months.

His second was even better, yet before that Mahrez added the fourth, pausing momentarily after receiving a square pass from substitute Ilkay Gundogan, then cutting a shot that deflected off left-back Junior Firpo to divert its way into the far corner. Having lost 6-1 at Old Trafford on the opening weekend, Leeds had now conceded as many goals in Manchester this season as their hosts for the evening.

There was one moment of resistance, with Dallas striking the outside of the post, narrowly failing to score at the same end as last season, but that would be as close as Leeds came to adding any sheen of respectability to the scoreline. De Bruyne was soon piling on further misery, powering another Gundogan square pass into the top left-hand corner from distance to spark the dancing in the stands.

It was an extraordinary strike, perhaps a statement of intent from a player who looks ready to come alive this season, and his teammates spent the final half hour largely trying to recreate it. The last two goals were more rudimentary, though, both scored by centre-backs at close range. Stones had several bites of the cherry before aiming a rebound into the roof of Meslier’s net, while Ake headed in from a corner.

City eventually ended at seven. They could have had any scoreline they liked.

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