The weekend that wasThe game between Leeds United and Manchester City was better viewing. Tactically speaking as well as for the thrill, in the meeting between two top managerial brains in football there was a lot to enjoy.
Last weekend will go down in Premier League folklore. Lowly Aston Villa drubbed majestic champions Liverpool 7-2. Mighty Manchester United went down 1-6 to Tottenham Hotspurs. It was the first time since 1963 that Liverpool conceded seven goals. Manchester United have been shipping six goals more often and the last time was in 2011, against derby rival Manchester City.
These two matches on Sunday hogged the headlines. Aston Villa showed that a fearless game plan can unnerve Liverpool. They may not be runaway champions again. With United, what can one say? Erik Lamela should have been sent off with Antony Martial but, sadly, they did not even put up a resistance, questioning if Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer is the right man for the job.
However, it was the game between Leeds United and Manchester City the previous day that was better viewing. Tactically speaking as well as for the thrill, in the meeting between two top managerial brains in football there was a lot to enjoy.
At the final whistle, seated on his bucket seat, Marcelo Biesla looked and the ground for about half a minute. There was a lot to contemplate about the game. Then he got up and walked towards his opposite number, and probably his biggest admirer among top managers, and smiled. The two exchanged a few sentences. Both probably said that there was a lot in the game to think about and what a game the other team played. “I said I’m not able to analyse the game after one second, I’m not able to process it,” Pep Guardiola said.
Manchester City are a top team winning the league four times in the last eight seasons. Since 2011-12, when they finally became the champions, they have always been contenders. Leeds United, on the other hand, had not been in the top flight since 2004. It was a mid-table Championship side until Marcelo Biesla was manager appointed in 2018. They were set for automatic promotion by either being champions or the runner-up in the maverick Argentine’s first season in-charge but the team literally lost steam towards the end of the season. They played in the play-offs, lost to Frank Lampard’s Derby County in the semi-final. Last season, they were champions of the Championship.
Players who have played under Biesla have observed that he demands a lot from them. Ander Herrera, who was who played for Biesla at Athletic Bilbao before he joined Manchester United in 2014, said that the players were knackered at the end of the 2011-12 season when they reached the final of Europa League and the Copy del Rey —only to lose both.
Four games into the season it is easy to see why. The players run and run and run throughout the 90 minutes. That means they make the opposition run too, especially a team under Guardiola which play a possession based game and press their opponents to win back the ball immediately. All Biesla’s players swarm forward when they have possession and run back when they lose it in the opposition half or even in the opposition box.
Manchester City should have scored more than one goal in the first half so careless were Leeds United in their passing. The first goal came through a forward punt from their baby-faced goalkeeper Illan Meslier which fell to a City player and soon Raheem Sterling had the ball and he scored. City had other chances but Meslier made some wonderful saves. At the other end City goalkeeper Ederson too made a number of outstanding saves to deny Leeds. The second half was exhilarating football. There was so much open space and players ran into them to get the ball. If City deserved to win the first half, Leeds deserved in the second half. Only Ederson continued to come to the rescue. But when he conceded, he was at fault for dropping a shot from a corner. Rodrigo pounced on the loose ball and scored.
Marcelo Biesla had a reputation when he came to the Premier League. He has already lived up to them even after four games. He lost against a much superior Liverpool team in the first weekend of the season and he has drawn with City, the top flight runners-up last season and title contenders this year. Leeds United games are to be enjoyed. They are here to stay in the top flight and fans of football should be grateful for it.
“Being successful deforms us as human beings, it relaxes us, it plays tricks on us, it makes us worse individuals, it helps us fall in love with ourselves. Failure is the complete opposite, it makes us more solid, it brings us closer to our convictions, it makes us more coherent.” Thus spake Biesla. To watch a team managed by someone with such a philosophy play is a privilege.