Pep Guardiola faces pressing issues after Manchester City let another lead slip against Leeds United

Rodrigo second-half equaliser ensured Manchester City were held to a 1-1 draw with Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United at Elland Road. City let the game slip after a strong start and that has become a pressing issue for Pep Guardiola, writes Adam Bate

Kevin De Bruyne during Manchester City's 1-1 draw with Leeds United
Image: Kevin De Bruyne and Manchester City were pegged back by Leeds

“In the first half, we had clear chances to kill the game,” Pep Guardiola told Sky Sports. “The second half was a little bit more equal. There was a part when they were better.”

And so it goes for Manchester City at the moment.

The 1-1 draw with Leeds United at Elland Road was a thrilling game of football. Rocky versus Apollo Creed, according to Gary Neville. Both trading blows. Neither could find the knockout punch but maybe City are already on the canvas when it comes to the title race.

Guardiola seemed still to be taking in what he had witnessed when speaking after the final whistle. But when he does have time to analyse what Marcelo Bielsa's players put his team through in West Yorkshire, he will be left to reflect on familiar failings from his City side.

Once again, City started well. Just as they had against Wolves and Leicester. Once again, City scored the early goal. Just as they had against Wolves and Leicester. And once again, they allowed their grip on the game to slip.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leeds' draw with Manchester City in the Premier League

Guardiola's side had 66 per cent of the ball in the opening quarter of an hour against Leeds, a continuation of their early domination at Molineux (70 per cent) and against Leicester (78 per cent). In all three games, the opening goal came their way inside the first 20 minutes.

There was a time when that was the catalyst for City to kick on and overwhelm their opponents. In their back-to-back title-winning seasons under Guardiola, they scored the first goal of the game on 65 occasions and proceeded to win 60 of those matches.

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If there was a criticism of City back then it was that they were too ruthless. Expending needless energy by pummelling the opponents long after the result was in any doubt. Now they have dropped points in consecutive games despite scoring first.

"We made an incredible 30 minutes when we could have scored the goals but we did not," said Guardiola. "We knew that this is a team that is there until the final whistle.

"We knew it."

In other words, they can have no complaints.

In all three matches, the expected-goals data supports the eye test and shows that it has been City's opponents - not them - who have had the better chances after the break.

That happened only five times in 38 games during Guardiola's first title-winning season.

Is that complacency? It certainly did not feel like the reason as his team were caught up in a frenzied and draining game against Bielsa's side. City simply could not contain Leeds.

It was different against Leicester but still a variation on a theme. Even before the withdrawal of Fernandinho, the visitors were finding ways to play through the press. When the Brazilian went off all control was lost.

Ruben Dias has been brought in at great expense in an attempt to solve some of these problems at the back and one can only imagine what he is making of the Premier League after such an extraordinary introduction to the competition. He faced up to the test well.

The focus has now shifted to the full-back positions after a poor performance by Kyle Walker and yet another display from Benjamin Mendy that left many wondering whether he has the instincts required to snuff out danger in the defensive third of the pitch.

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Pep Guardiola says Leeds proved to be a very good test for his Manchester City side

But the fear for City's supporters and Guardiola himself is that there is something more fundamental at play here. Even as he attempts to bring in players to address a deficiency here or tweak the system to provide greater protection there, bigger questions loom.

Are City still capable of playing with the urgency required?

At their best, the old Guardiola line about his Barcelona team being horrible to play against without the ball had been equally applicable to the Manchester City version. They would harass opponents with relentless enthusiasm and before long possession would be theirs.

No doubt that is how Kalvin Phillips will remember the first 20 minutes of his first taste of playing against Guardiola's Manchester City. The Leeds playmaker was targeted from the outset and found himself denied any kind of room to pick out passes in midfield.

It was all took quick for him. Until it wasn't.

Eventually, the spaces began to open up and Leeds were able to cause plenty of problems of their own. It was a sapping game but that seemed to suit them more than their opponents.

Rodrigo celebrates his equaliser
Image: Rodrigo celebrates his equaliser as Leeds came back to draw 1-1 with City

There were signs last season that City were no longer able to maintain that sort of energy week in and week out. It helps to explain why they contrived to lose nine games in the Premier League last season, while looking so strong in many of the other matches.

Right now the concern is not only that City cannot deliver week in and week out but on recent evidence it would seem debatable whether they can keep going for an entire game.

As opposition managers learn to appreciate this, the encouragement to hang on in there will only grow. Stay in the game. Things will turn. That aura of invincibility has gone and in its place there is a palpable sense of hitherto unexpected vulnerability as matches wear on.

In a wider sense, Manchester City have become victims not of their vulnerability but their own success in shaping the way that football is now being played in the Premier League.

Their kind of pressing has become the style of choice for many coaches in the competition. The number of pressed sequences has increased year on year. The number of passes allowed per defensive action in the zones closest to the opposition goal has decreased.

But while the rest have been pressing more, City have been pressing less.

All of the other teams to finish in the top five in the Premier League last season upped their number of pressed sequences on the previous campaign. All of the other teams to finish in the top five in the Premier League last season allowed fewer passes per defensive action.

City's numbers went in the opposite direction.

Ruben Dias on his Manchester City debut against Leeds United
Image: Ruben Dias had a tough test on his Manchester City debut against Leeds

It is why it might take much more than Dias to alter the flow of their matches because the problems are occurring long before the ball finds its way to Ederson's penalty box.

Without pressure on the ball, there are problems. If City attempt to keep pressing but without the same intensity as before, teams can play through them and expose the high defensive line. If City stop pressing and drop deeper then the control of old is lost anyway.

Guardiola surely senses it himself, saying afterwards that Gabriel Jesus' off-the-ball work has been much missed. He needs key players to come back. The lack of a proper pre-season has been costly too. Both would no doubt have helped him to play the type of game that he wants to play.

For now, it is proving a problem.

"If they are going to challenge Liverpool they are going to have to finish games off," former Manchester City defender Micah Richards told Sky Sports after the game.

Whether or not Pep Guardiola can pick his team up off the canvas and find a way to solve this problem will surely define their season.

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