Breaking the speed of sound in a certain medium produces large amplitude pressure waves that are shock waves. The feeling of being inside one can mesmerize you, deafen you, make you feel still while everything around you is in fast forward, and finally it can kill you. That’s what watching a Marcelo Bielsa side feels like. Inside a shockwave.
Pep Guardiola’s praise for the Argentine was expected before the pre-match press conference. The two regard each other highly despite that they have faced each others less times than you can count on one hand.
At Elland Road, Guardiola wanted to walk through the shockwave. Not only walk through it, but play through it. So, he decided to make his own shock wave. Leaving us mere neutrals in between. Entertained, yet unable to grasp what is happening. Like being on fast forward, unable recollect the events occurring.
“He said to me ‘What is your opinion about the game ?’ and I said ‘After one second I am not able to...I am not able to analyze the game’. Maybe he’s you know, more much clever than me. I’m not, I need time to process to know how was the game.” explained Guardiola about what was said during that emotional encounter with Bielsa after the game. The game was too fast. The shock waves were too strong.
Leeds United’s build up consists of different schemes. Two of them involve Kalvin Phillips and Leeds’ full backs, whether that’s Stuart Dallas and Luke Ayling or whoever is by the touchline. Phillips’ distribution makes him an essential cog in Leeds’ jet-fighter and a key button in their flight. Also, Dallas and Ayling’s presence out wide at times substitutes Phillips role as an outlet for the build up.
Leeds’ second goal against Liverpool gives a brief example. Jordan Henderson is marking Phillips, denying him being a passing option for Ilan Meslier in goal. Stuart Dallas however is free by the touchline because of the positioning of Mateusz Klich and Jack Harrison who are pinning Trent Alexander-Arnold and Naby Keita. Meslier finds Dallas free out wide and the domino effect beings, ending with Patrick Bamford equalizing to make it 2–2.
A different case occurs in the second half against Fulham. Both Phillips and Dallas are marked by Fulham players.
Making Meslier choose the third option which is the winger by the touchline. Before Harrison receives the ball, Bamford was already making the run into the space. Anticipating Harrison’s header. This attack led up to Leeds’ fourth and made it harder for Fulham to finalize a comeback.
Direct balls from Meslier out wide towards a player near the touchline is a feature of Leeds United’s build up, especially when Phillips is taken out of the equation.
Manchester City’s shockwave, and their first half dominance, was based on that. During Leeds United’s build up, Raheem Sterling and Ferran Torres were concerned with Liam Cooper and Robin Koch as Riyad Mahrez dropped onto Phillips. The option Leeds take when that happens is their full backs where Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden were ready to press even before Meslier played the diagonal.
It started as early as the second minute. As Fran Torres is making an angled run towards Meslier, the French keeper has to make a decision. Phillips is marked by Mahrez and De Bruyne knows that the ball is going to be played towards Ayling. The Belgian starts his run even before Meslier plays the ball.
Before it drops, De Bruyne is in a better position to receive than Ayling and he wins the header, after which Sterling manages to win a foul. De Bruyne’s free kick hit the post, providing the first alarm bell for Leeds.
Mahrez’s role was tricky. He had to drop onto Phillips, denying any pass into him as he moves behind him while also forcing Meslier into the diagonal pass. He performed that perfectly. In this scenario Meslier can’t reach Phillips and Mahrez is starting his move towards him, while keeping Phillips in his cover shadow.
The diagonal ball was played, probably intended towards Ezgjan Alioski, but fell comfortably for Kyle Walker to receive. Meanwhile, De Bruyne was positioned near Dallas in case Meslier played the ball into him. From this recovery City were close to make it 1–0 if not for Dallas’ goal line block which denied Ferran Torres his first goal for Manchester City.
Another situation shows the pressing scheme City implemented. Mahrez is covering Phillips while starting his run to force Meslier into the diagonal ball.
Again, just right when Meslier is playing the diagonal into Dallas, De Bruyne is making his run to press the left full back. Meslier sees that and changes his decision, playing a poor ball into Helder Costa out wide which Walker collects easily to begin City’s attack.
Mahrez’s press to force Meslier meant that at times Phillips managed to get out of the Algerian’s cover shadow. At that moment, Foden or De Bruyne moved out to mark Phillips. City always made sure that Phillips was taken out of the equation. Here you can spot Foden moving closer to Phillips while Mahrez is forcing Meslier into the diagonal…
….which Walker and De Bruyne are anticipating. When Meslier had the ball, De Bruyne was closer to the touchline than the center of the pitch. Making sure the distance between him and Leeds’ full backs are minimal in case the diagonal was played. Walker as well was more advanced, making sure Alioski or Helder Costa don’t receive comfortably which was the case here.
An example in the tenth minute shows De Bruyne ready to make the run towards Phillips when there is space for the English midfielder to move into and thus getting out of Mahrez’s cover shadow.
Meslier played the ball into the space, but De Bruyne was ready to make the run even before Meslier touched the ball. As a result, De Bruyne managed to intercept the ball and his shot was going to test Meslier if Koch hadn’t blocked it.
City’s adaption in their pressing scheme was seamless, cutting one of the heads grew three instead. They kept forcing Meslier into the diagonals while marking Phillips in the center.
And once the ball was wide, De Bruyne and Walker were ready for it. Making sure Leeds don’t progress up the pitch and Manchester City regain the ball to start the transition.
The chances originating from the pressing finally turned into goals after sixteen minutes. A Leeds throw in moved all the way back to Meslier, as the ball moved it was followed by Mahrez whose angle of run here takes out Koch as a passing option. Ferran Torres is near as well to press Cooper. Centrally, Foden is tracking Phillips which forces Meslier’s hand to play the players near the touchline. Helder Costa and Ayling, both of whom are marked by Benjamin Mendy and Sterling. Under pressure, Meslier’s ball towards Helder Costa was poor and Mendy collected to start the attack which resulted in City’s opener through Sterling.
That was City’s shockwave and Leeds had one of their own as well. Once they passed the pressing phase, Leeds’ unpredictable runs were too much for City’s defence to grasp. Take this one by Dallas, making a run into the box, underlapping Alioski to meet Tyler Roberts’ pass.
Dallas took one touch too many, allowing Ederson to sweep the ball into a corner kick. But it made the Brazilian keeper sweat.
The first half was mainly City’s, but it was the in the second half where Leeds took over. Early on, a simple combination between Dallas and Helder Costa takes out De Bruyne and moves Walker up the pitch. While this was happening, Tyler Roberts was making a run from midfield into the space behind Walker.
This run forces Ruben Dias to keep his position and prevents him from facing Dallas or keeping compactness centrally. Roberts’ partner in midfield, Klich makes the run into the space. Providing Dallas with a passing option.
Klich’s run attracts Aymeric Laporte, resulting in Mendy moving inside to track Bamford. The consequence here is that Ian Poveda is free out wide and once Klich returns the ball to Dallas, the left back switches the play towards the free man out wide.
Poveda then found the overlapping Ayling whose cross should have been way better. It went over the goal into a goal kick, when it should have been towards Tyler Roberts who was free at the back post. Roberts’ unpredictable run started the attack and should have finished it.
The runs worked in sync. On a counter attack a couple of minutes later, Poveda and Bamford’s inside runs forces City’s defensive to be narrow which allows space for Rodrigo Moreno out wide.
Rodrigo who replaced Tyler Roberts had time and space because of Bamford and Poveda’s runs. This allowed him to cause problems for City and his shot went out into a corner kick through which Leeds United equalized.
The runs were still coming and after Leif Davies was introduced in place of Klich, Dallas moved into midfield. The Northern Irish here makes a run into the space behind Walker similar to the one Tyler Roberts did earlier.
Dallas, Costa and Davies then combined with the latter finding Dallas in a position on the left wing. Ruben Dias again having to cover out wide was forced to move out and face Dallas, allowing Bamford to make a run into the space behind him. Unfortunately for Leeds, Bamford missed the chance and was offside. However, had it gone in without being offside, it would have encapsulated Leeds unpredictable runs in a perfect goal.
By the end of the game, both shock waves were over. Neutrals and fans of both sides could resume their normal lives without feeling the pressure from the speed of this game.
A game so fast, it broke the speed of sound.