Manchester City are taking flight precisely when required. This seventh consecutive Premier League victory stretched their lead at the top to four points – Liverpool have played a game fewer – and took Pep Guardiola past the 500 goal mark: 502 to be exact in a record time of 207 games.
If City were rampant, Leeds were humiliated and it is a puzzle that their lauded manager, Marcelo Bielsa, can oversee such an easy-to-pick‑off unit.
There are ways to avoid defeat and none were present here in what ended as the club’s joint-worst loss in any competition. Concerning, too, for Leeds fans is how bewildered their manager was afterwards.
What pleased Guardiola most was a resurgent Kevin De Bruyne, who scored twice, plus the sparkling performances of Jack Grealish, Rodri and Riyad Mahrez in particular and, how City equalled Liverpool’s top-flight record of 33 wins in a calendar year, set in 1982.
Guardiola could name De Bruyne in his Premier League XI for the first time in five weeks as he positioned, again, Phil Foden as the false nine with Grealish in a familiar left-sided berth, the £100m man still to consistently light his new team up. However, his opening gambit of a fierce shot led to Illan Meslier saving low down and was to augur well for City.
Bernardo Silva has been flying recently so when Foden fed De Bruyne, who relayed the ball to the Portuguese, the sight of him missing a gaping goal jarred. But, normal service was soon restored. Foden tapped to Rodri, he barrelled past Tyler Roberts then Luke Ayling and, on pulling the trigger, saw his effort rebound off Meslier. Lurking behind was Foden, who had raced in from halfway, and his finish opened the scoring, Jamie Shackleton’s hapless miskick helping it in.
The very last thing required at this venue is to concede early. Eight minutes had gone and by 13 it was 2-0 and, possibly, contest over. City were a blue swarm, claiming a corner on the right that was delivered by Mahrez. Eventually the ball went back to the Algerian, whose cross had Grealish powering beyond Meslier with his first headed goal for City.
Bielsa, on his bespoke pitchside “bucket-upside-down” seat, was as stunned as his team. City, relentless and ruthless, wanted more. Grealish ran across the area and unloaded. Mahrez darted to the byline, fired the ball in and De Bruyne went close.
On display was a side in perfect harmony, its 10 outfield players knowing exactly where to pass and move. Mahrez was rivalling Grealish as City’s marquee act, a devilish 180‑degree spin bewildering Junior Firpo, who dragged him back and was booked.
Grealish next danced 60 yards along the left and found Foden – a corner ensued, and Leeds escaped. As they did, too, when the excellent Rodri again burst lungs to reach a Grealish pass, the Spaniard running out of road near Meslier’s goal.
Even better was Rodri’s sublime pass that created City’s third. This released De Bruyne in the left channel and a swish of the Belgian’s left foot and Meslier was beaten. When they trotted off for the break Leeds required the mother and father of all comebacks to avoid the same fate.
The visitors were criminally open, Bielsa, for all his reputation as a supposed tactical guru, apparently unable to have Leeds operate from a solid structure. When Jack Harrison was allowed to skate into City’s area the No 22’s lack of poise – he passed the ball to Ederson – summed up the poor team Bielsa had fielded. Things got worse for Leeds when Mahrez blazed from long range and in went the fourth via Firpo. At this juncture a chorus of “Sergio, Sergio” rang out in tribute to Sergio Agüero, City’s record scorer who is to officially retire on Wednesday.
This was the kind of evening City enjoyed due to their razor-sharp intent and Leeds’ soporific, powder-puff resistance. Stuart Dallas, to his credit, clipped Ederson’s right post but the question remained how many more City might plunder.
When De Bruyne shirked a tackle a furious Guardiola threw up his hands in disgust as Dallas went close. Complacency – and a lot of it – seemed Leeds’ last hope.
But this was before De Bruyne redeemed himself with a 20-yard barnburner for 5-0. John Stones and Nathan Aké completed the rout. City’s delighted fans had sung: “We want seven”. They received their wish.
Of his season so far, De Bruyne said: “There has been a lot happening this year, a little out of my control [Covid and injury].”
Of City’s three-way tussle with Liverpool and Chelsea, De Bruyne said: “It’s a hell of a competition, and it will be a hell of a race. We will try to be there.”