It was no real surprise to see Ruben Dias come straight into the Manchester City team for his Premier League debut at Leeds United.
Pep Guardiola’s men were returning to league action for the first time since a humiliating 5-2 defeat at home to Leicester City last weekend – the centre-back pairing of Nathan Ake and Eric Garcia on that occasion were subsequently dropped.
Dias, a Portugal international, arrived from Benfica this week in a deal worth an initial £62million (€68m) following several months of speculation linking City with new centre-backs.
After being comfortably beaten to the Premier League title last term, Guardiola was certain what area of his team needed improving and he has been backed.
At Elland Road on Saturday, Dias did little wrong, but the match did highlight another issue with City’s defence.
Level in Leeds
#ManCity | https://t.co/axa0klUGiM pic.twitter.com/VVjJsvMLAL
— Manchester City (@ManCity) October 3, 2020
Dias a cool customer
The second half saw tactics pretty much go out of the window, a particularly novel and entertaining element of the encounter given it was a contest between two of the game’s most highly thought of tacticians.
But Dias, put straight into the starting XI, was the embodiment of composure throughout.
He was right into the thick of it as well – Dias had a header from a corner deflected wide after just four minutes and then nodded agonisingly wide from another set-piece soon after.
His distribution, while by no means spectacular, was solid – his 82 per cent success rate an improvement on the 77 posted by Aymeric Laporte, who was the sloppier of the two City centre-backs.
Dias also showed his ease in possession after 34 minutes as he cut out a long ball by controlling with his thigh, before nudging possession off to Rodri despite being put under pressure – while not necessarily an incident for a highlight reel, it was one of numerous moments that suggested his suitability for City’s style of play.
But defensively he was also solid, making a team-high four clearances and two blocks, one of which halted a Helder Costa delivery across the face of goal, subsequently winning a free-kick from the winger with a clever side-step in the immediate aftermath.
A positive from today!
#ManCity | https://t.co/axa0klUGiM pic.twitter.com/CL0xJGqzE4
— Manchester City (@ManCity) October 3, 2020
Mendy run ragged
Mendy did actually start the thrilling encounter well with some forward runs, but there was a hint of things to come just before half-time when the left-back’s issues with concentration were laid bare.
The Frenchman attempted to bring down Kalvin Phillips’ cross-field pass as he tracked back towards goal, but his relaxed touch was pounced upon by Luke Ayling, only for Ederson to bail out his full-back.
Half-time will have given him a chance to compose himself, but the start of the second period coincided with the introduction of former City youngster Ian Poveda.
Within a minute of his entry Poveda was straight at Mendy and Raheem Sterling, tricking his way past the latter before running at the former and getting a cross into the danger zone, which was met by Patrick Bamford who saw his effort deflected wide.
That was just a sign of things to come for Mendy and he was all over the place to the extent that he was withdrawn for centre-back Ake with 19 minutes to go.
One tackle and a solitary clearance was all Mendy managed in terms of defensive actions during his 71 minutes on the pitch, while he failed to deliver a single cross – given attacking output is considered his strong side, that is not a good look for him.
City are rumoured to be chasing another left-back, with Nicolas Tagliafico and David Alaba said to be targets, and on the evidence of this match it is easy to see why.
— Premier League (@premierleague) October 3, 2020
Substitutes change the game for Leeds
Leeds struggled initially, particularly in the first 20 minutes. Although they did improve until the break, the hosts still only managed four shots in the first period but then had double that after the interval.
Poveda was the first to be introduced and certainly made an impact, running at the City left flank almost every time he got the ball.
A January signing from City, Poveda won two fouls thanks to his direct style of play, while his one key pass had City on the back foot right at the start of the second period, setting the tone for Leeds’ improvement.
The 20-year-old winger attempted six dribbles and completed four of them, highlighting the problem he posed Mendy and Sterling.
But he wasn’t the only Leeds sub to test the visitors – Rodrigo Moreno was similarly lively off the bench, getting the equaliser as he reacted quickest to an Ederson error at a corner.
The Spain international looked in the mood as soon as he came on, with his first action seeing him run at Dias and work just enough space for a shot that took a slight deflection on to the crossbar and out for a corner – it was this set-piece, just three minutes after Rodrigo was brought on, that brought the Leeds goal.
He continued to be a pest, however, with the last of his three attempts forcing Ederson to tip his header on to the crossbar, while he also produced a couple of key passes – firstly teeing up Helder Costa, before then finding Bamford, who was denied by the City keeper.
Leeds won’t always play against teams as open as City, but with schemers like Rodrigo – and, seemingly – Poveda, unlocking packed defences certainly won’t be beyond them.
2 – Rodrigo Moreno has scored his second Premier League goal and first since January 2011, nine years and 272 days ago. It’s the second longest gap between a player’s first two goals in the competition after Andy Johnson (9 years, 276 days). Wait. pic.twitter.com/djtLpn3zMC
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 3, 2020