Leeds United 1 Manchester City 3: Festive gifts sees Erling Haaland's City punish Leeds

SEEING a glut of goals at Leeds United's Yuletide matches had been becoming a bit of a Christmas ‘tradition’ alongside roast turkey and all the trimmings, mince pies and mulled wine.

Last December, United let in seven to Wednesday's feted visitors alongside four against Arsenal.

In the previous festive season in 2020, they conceded six at Manchester United, but did counterbalance things with five of their own against Newcastle and West Brom respectively.

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This was a night when Manchester City scored a mere three times, although it probably should have been several more.

Pascal Struijk heads in Leeds's goal against Manchester City. Picture: Bruce RollinsonPascal Struijk heads in Leeds's goal against Manchester City. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Pascal Struijk heads in Leeds's goal against Manchester City. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Before the decorations went up this year, the numbers were ominous in truth regarding the defensive concessions of Leeds, who have now eclipsed their worst Premier League tally of 70 in a calendar year set in 2003.

Leeds shipped a combined total of seven goals in chaotic games with Spurs and Bournemouth ahead of the World Cup hiatus before even bumping into someone special in the opposing line-up who was born in the city.

It was not Kalvin Phillips, hardly, but the most-talked about pure striker in world football at the moment in Erling Haaland.

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His first competitive game at Elland Road, with his father Alf-Inge in attendance, provided one for the scrapbook by way of two second-half goals.

One was a gift - with a dreadful miscommunication between Liam Cooper and Robin Koch giving him the chance to effectively kill the game - and the other, was a typically unerring low fashion as City started to move through the gears.

It came with an air of inevitability with the striker choosing not to celebrate his 19th and 20th Premier League goals of the campaign out of respect for a club which clearly mean something to him.

At 3-0 down and the game looking over, Leeds fans started to find sport elsewhere. Some cheeky chants questioned Phillips’s conditioning following the recent missive from Pep Guardiola as he warmed up. A smirk soon arrived followed by a chorus of Yorkshire Pirlo' on his Elland Road return.

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A header 17 minutes from time from Pascal Struijk also got home followers animated. City got sloppy as Guardiola got agitated in his technical area and booted a bottle towards the home bench before apologising. It was Leeds, who erred at the key moments - something you cannot do against the champions.

Guardiola spoke about Leeds’s aggression and from their perspective, this was certainly a night for hassling, harrying and spoiling rather than indulging in a basketball match where they would only be one winner.

As first-half exercises went, the hosts’ discipline and shape without the ball in a 4-3-3 formation and attention to their much-vaunted opponents was commendable enough, as was their competitiveness.

But on the occasions when they got the ball, they were not careful enough and created a fair few problems for themselves in the process. City increasingly had their number.

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Nevertheless, it looked like Leeds would reach half-time with no damage, although they were helped on several occasions by some slapdash finishing from pantomine villain Jack Grealish, much to the mirth of the home supporters who barracked him throughout.

One miss in front of goal ahead of the break shortly after Marc Roca was punished for coughing up possession was particularly meek with another poor effort from Kevin De Bruyne’s low free-kick not much better.

The gravity of those misses may have been exposed had an unlikely source in Rodri not put City in front moments before the break with a rebound after excellence on the counter from the visitors.

Ilkay Gundogan and De Bruyne, who showed moments of class, were involved in the move. It ended with Rodri’s finish after Illan Meslier kept out Rihad Mahrez’s initial effort.

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Thankfully, back in the side, the Frenchman stayed strong when City got through, denying Haaland twice - once inside the opening 35 seconds - and Gundogan.

Good sides don’t panic and it was Leeds who had the problem to solve in the second half. Hang, try and contain and wait to nick something and feed off the fuel of a high-octane home crowd enthused by the thigh scoreline or twist.

Unfortunately, the plan was obliterated soon enough and the option denied them. At 3-0 with 65 minutes gone, it had the potential to get messy.

Strujik's header from Sam Greenwood provided respite. Haaland missed a hat-trick chance - on a night when he should have taken over the match ball by his high standards - and had substitute Joe Gelhardt's not turned in Greenwood's cross rather than sending it just wide, it might just have got interesting.Greenwood also fired a free-kick just over. There was no grandstand finale.

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Leeds United: Meslier; Kristensen (Ayling 65), Cooper (Llorente 72), Koch, Struijk; Roca, Forshaw (Klich 65), Greenwood; Aaronson (Gyabi 83), Gnonto, Rodrigo (Gelhardt 72). Substitutes unused: Robles, Firpo, Summerville, Harrison.

Manchester City: Ederson, Akanji, Stones, Ake, Lewis (Cancelo 68); Gundogan, Rodri, De Bruyne; Grealish (Foden 73), Mahrez (Palmer 88), Haaland. Unused substitutes: Ortega, Walker, Phillips, Laporte, Silva, Gomez.

Referee: S Attwell (Nuneaton).