I trust them a lot – Guardiola backs City stars who flopped against Leeds

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola insisted he had no regrets over ringing the changes as Manchester City went down to a shock 2-1 defeat at home against Leeds United.

Stuart Dallas broke away to score his second of the game in stoppage time to give Marcelo Bielsa’s men a hard-fought triumph over the Premier League leaders, despite losing captain Liam Cooper to a red card shortly before half-time.

Ferran Torres cancelled out Dallas’ first-half opener with 14 minutes to play but it was a frustrating outing in front of goal for Guardiola’s men overall as they racked up 29 largely fruitless attempts and Leeds scored from their only two shots.

City will defend a slender 2-1 advantage in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final at Borussia Dortmund and Guardiola named an XI showing seven changes from the initial encounter with the Bundesliga side.

Spain forward Torres was making only his third Premier League start since the beginning of February, while centre-back Nathan Ake played for the first time in 2021 following a serious hamstring injury.

“When you win I’m a genius, when you lose you have to take it,” Guardiola said at a post-match news conference.

“I don’t have regrets about the 11 selected because I trust them a lot. Maybe they don’t trust me, but I trust them. If I didn’t trust them they would not play.

“John [Stones] was fantastic, Nathan, Benja [Benjamin Mendy], all of them. Everyone was good.

“Playing against Leeds is difficult because they are used to winning duels and when you beat that duel they come back more aggressive than before to dribble again.”

Guardiola blamed the defeat on City failing to stem counter-attacks when Leeds emerged from their defensive shell during the closing minutes, with Ederson making a vital sliding challenge to deny Raphinha before Dallas latched on to Ezgjan Alioski’s throughball with aplomb.

“It is a game of transitions. We had to avoid it, they did it. We defended well at their goal kicks, short and long. And after, 10 against 11, we needed inspiration of the players and especially don’t let them run,” Guardiola said, having withdrawn Ake in favour of playmaker Ilkay Gundogan before the hour mark – a move that appeared to leave City more vulnerable on the break.

“We did it during 37 minutes [in the second half] but before the goal we conceded Raphinha had a chance and Edi saved. The second one at the end we could not control it and we had to.

“In the last five years, always we work and talk about that. When you attack and attack and attack, always we have to control and don’t let them run. If you don’t, then it’s impossible to play in this way.”

If that is a lesson Guardiola is preparing to repeat once again before his squad heads to Signal Iduna Park, he will also be keen to draw attention to their recent achievements with pivotal fixtures on the horizon.

City take on Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley next weekend before returning to England’s national stadium on April 25 to face Tottenham and attempt to win a fourth consecutive EFL Cup.

“What happens when you lose a game is you realise how difficult it is, what we’ve done so far,” he added, with a maximum of 10 points required from their final six Premier League games for City to secure the title.

“When you see in the last 28 games we have won 26, you realise how difficult it is what we have done.

“The Premier League must be won. We need points still because now our opponent can win all the games. We need to do it again.

“We have Aston Villa in the middle, but three of the next four games are finals – in the Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup.

“If you tell me about faith, wow, we have incredible confidence in the guys. Sometimes defeat is necessary to understand what we have done and what we need to do to move forward.”

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Manchester CityPremier League