The talk before it all had been of tactical masterplans and the game’s two grand masters, though what evolved was something beyond any such definition: a wild, indefinable, beautiful kind of football.
Total football in the purest sense and yet another example of how Leeds’ ambition scrambles the minds of the Premier League’s best and take this sport to new levels.
It hadn’t seemed likely to turn out that way. There was a heavy significance about Pep Guardiola affording Marcelo Bielsa such minimal eye contact when they finally stood face-to-face in the sheeting Yorkshire rain.
Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds demonstrated their qualities in the 1-1 draw versus Manchester City
Bielsa had talked of his so-called protege’s ‘imagination’ as a ‘creator of solutions’ and sure enough, the Spaniard came with a bespoke strategy, strangling the life out of Kalvin Phillips, Leeds’ creative fulcrum at Anfield three weeks ago.
Phillips was so busy trying to wrest himself free of Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden and Riyadh Mahrez and find the smallest square of turf to work with that finding the pass to break Manchester City’s defensive lines was not even a part of the equation.
The Bielsa Anfield strategy of playing five players up high and capitalising on an opponent’s high line high only works if you can locate that quintet.
But when Phillips is being burgled by de Bruyne, allowing City to race ahead, it’s a long chase back. For half an hour, there was not a Leeds midfield to speak of.
Leeds were initially overwhelmed but they responded to compete with Pep Guardiola's team
They were overwhelmed. You feared for them as City’s world stars worked the one-on-ones, setting Sterling, a phenomenally motivated de Bruyne and Mahrez at their backline, their passes ripping across the slick and sodden turf.
Bielsa will have told his players that perfection is required when you are up against a challenge like this. The two loose passes Ilan Meslier played out from defence in the first half became moments of immediate danger.
When Liam Cooper, attempting to recover one of those situations, managed only minimal contact, Sterling pounced and put City ahead. Bielsa went into that crouch of his, hands clenched, a picture of mental implosion as he crouched ten yards from Guardiola.
It generally goes that City score