MANCHESTER, England — On coronation day in England, Manchester City moved closer to the Premier League title as they went four points clear at the top of the table with a 2-1 win over Leeds United.
City warmed up for their Champions League trip to Real Madrid on Tuesday with two goals from Ilkay Gundogan at the Etihad Stadium, although he missed a late penalty which would have completed his hat trick after taking the ball from Erling Haaland.
Rodrigo scored 90 seconds after Gundogan’s miss, after a mistake from Manuel Akanji, to make for a nervous final few minutes, but Sam Allardyce’s first game in charge of Leeds ended in defeat. Leeds are now only outside the relegation places on goal difference with three games to play.
1. Gundogan double keeps City winning
The Treble train keeps rolling on and City are now nine points away from winning another Premier League title. Three wins from their remaining games against Everton, Chelsea, Brighton and Brentford will seal a fifth title in six years and bank the first leg of an historic Treble ahead of the FA Cup final against Manchester United on June 3 and a possible Champions League final a week later.
With Arsenal leading the way in the league for most of the campaign, there has been a surge of momentum behind City’s quest for silverware recently and victory over Leeds made it 15 wins from their last 16 games in all competitions. They haven’t lost a game — or even really been close to losing a game — since losing at Tottenham on Feb. 5.
The latest step towards the title was built on two first-half goals against Leeds from Gundogan. The German midfielder ghosted into the box twice in the space of 10 minutes to guide two well-placed finishes into each corner from Riyad Mahrez‘s passes. He made the second-most completed passes in a Premier League game (170) and controlled things from start to finish, even though his penalty miss denied him his first ever senior hat trick.
Gundogan is out of contract at the end of the season and City will let him make up his own mind about whether he wants to stay. There is interest from Barcelona and if he leaves, his experience and class on the ball will be a big miss for manager Pep Guardiola.
2. Guardiola rests key players ahead of Real Madrid tie
Managers always want more and despite some late nerves, Guardiola can be pretty happy with his weekend. City scored early goals to take the sting out of Leeds’ new manager bounce and he was also able to rest players ahead of the Champions League semifinal first leg against Real Madrid on Tuesday.
Ruben Dias, John Stones, Rodri, Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva — all likely to be in the starting XI in Spain — were left on the bench while Kevin De Bruyne got some rhythm back after missing the last two games. Nathan Ake got more minutes in his legs after returning from injury against West Ham on Wednesday before he was substituted as a precaution early in the second half.
The rest for midfielder Rodri, in particular, is much needed after a season during which he’s played more minutes than any other City player. Guardiola hasn’t been able to rely on Kalvin Phillips in the holding midfield role which means Rodri has only failed to start four games since Oct. 8.
Haaland has, understandably, grabbed the headlines for his goal-scoring this season but there are few players more important for City than the Spanish midfielder. If they are going to beat Real Madrid over two legs, he will need to be at his best against Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and the rest.
3. Leeds’ survival depends on Allardyce’s defence
Allardyce’s blueprint for saving a team from relegation starts with keeping clean sheets, but he might have his work cut out with Leeds. He inherited a team which conceded 23 goals in seven games in April — the most by a top-flight side in a single month since Birmingham let in 23 in April 1965 — and Leeds could have been 6-0 down inside 30 minutes at City.
Gundogan scored twice while Haaland and Julian Alvarez both had chances which should have been taken. Haaland also forced goalkeeper Joel Robles — in for Ilan Meslier to make his first Premier League start since 2017 — into a good save at his near post and De Bruyne had a shot cleared off the line.
Lots of teams struggle against City but Allardyce, who was lucky Haaland had an off day, will have got a sense very quickly of how much work there is to with his defence. They were more organised after half-time, but the truth is that Leeds probably weren’t expecting to get a result at the Etihad anyway and their remaining games against Newcastle, West Ham and Tottenham are more likely to yield the points needed to stay up.
The game at the London Stadium on May 21 already feels crucial with Leeds in desperate need of a win from somewhere.
Best and worst performers
Ilkay Gundogan, MF, Man City: Scored twice and completed more passes (92) than Leeds attempted (86) in the first half.
Riyad Mahrez, FW, Man City: Started on the right of City’s front three and rolled two perfect passes in to Gundogan for his two goals.
Aymeric Laporte, DF, Man City: Recalled in place of the rested Dias, he didn’t put a foot wrong.
Patrick Bamford, ST, Leeds: Didn’t see much of the ball but lost it when he did.
Rasmus Kristensen, DF, Leeds: Leeds didn’t defend well, particularly in the first half, and Kristensen looked shaky.
Wilfried Gnonto, FW, Leeds: Barely had any impact and was substituted before an hour was on the clock.
Highlights and notable moments
Gundogan was on hand to slot home from Mahrez’s pass, then did the same thing again for the second.
Ilkay Gündogan with the first time finish and Manchester City go four points clear at the top of the table!
📺: @USANetwork | #MCILEE pic.twitter.com/16sH0xdXnL
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) May 6, 2023
Leeds got one back late on, but it wasn’t enough.
Leeds have life. 👀
📺 : @USANetwork | #MCILEE pic.twitter.com/cq6wkExMTq
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) May 6, 2023
After the match: What the managers, players said
Leeds boss Sam Allardyce told the BBC: “It is the old story of taking one game at a time. We have to get better between now and next week. We have to improve our performance by 5%. It would be too much to ask more than that in such a short space of time. We can iron out a bit more in terms of the playing side and our possession. That is what let us down in the first half. It was too rush and not accurate enough. They weren’t hitting the right spaces. When we did that a bit better in the second half we got more attacking options and it gave the defenders some respite.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Mahrez has registered four assists in his last three Premier League games.
– Gundogan scored multiple goals in a Premier League game for the first time since May 22, 2022 — the final game of last season vs. Aston Villa that won City the title.
– Gundogan completed more passes (92) than Leeds attempted in the first half (86).
– Even after Gundogan’s penalty miss, Man City are the only Premier League team with hat tricks from multiple players this season (Haaland 4 times; Phil Foden once.)
– Gundogan broke his record for most successful passes in a Premier League game (170). Only Rodri (178) has more.
– Manchester City are the first team to have at least 80% possession and 90% pass completion in a Premier League match since May 2021 (Man City beat Newcastle 4-3.)
– Manchester City now have a 93.7% chance to win the Premier League and 36.6% chance to win the Treble according to FiveThirtyEight’s SPI.
Manchester City: A trip to Madrid to face Real in the semifinals of the Champions League on May 9, then they must travel to relegation-threatened Everton on May 14 in the Premier League.
Leeds United: Their hopes of staying up will rest on games at home against Newcastle (May 13), away at West Ham (May 21) and then at home to Spurs on the final day (May 28.)