Pep Guardiola gamble looks like a masterstroke as Man City stand on the brink of a double

Pep Guardiola hails ‘really good result’ as double-chasing Man City thrash Leeds

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Perhaps Pep Guardiola does know what he is doing after all. The Manchester City manager was vilified in some quarters for the weakened line-up he put out for the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool – a game City lost 3-2. It was, apparently, a foolhardy surrender not just of City’s place in the competition but also of the psychological high ground to their rivals in red for the remainder of the season.

Yet in the four games since, City have produced four high-pressure wins out of four and scored 16 goals in the process to remain top of the Premier League and carry a narrow lead into Wednesday’s second leg of the Champions League semi-final.

Full judgment will arrive at a later date – there are some wind-blown tightropes still to walk – but if it turns out Guardiola has exchanged an FA Cup for a domestic and European double it will have been a deal well worth doing. The juggling act that is management at this time of the season for a side chasing glory on different fronts is a precarious one. 

Had Guardiola picked Kevin de Bruyne at Wembley, City would undoubtedly have stood more chance but as the City manager pointed out after the Brighton win which followed he could not have expected the Belgian to function as effectively as he did that night at the Etihad had he not enjoyed the downtime.

Guardiola rested De Bruyne again at Elland Road on Saturday hoping for the same payback at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night from mothballing his most influential player. He made five changes in all which, even with the depth of his squad, was a calculated risk at Leeds.

They may not be the best team in the Premier League but, thanks to Burnley’s resurrection, they are fighting for their lives. Elland Road may not be the most up to date stadium in the division but it is still a visceral hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck experience for any visiting team. 

Leeds harried and hassled enthusiastically but despite their huff and puff City – even without De Bruyne – had the extra element of class and came through easily enough in the end 4-0. Guardiola’s selection was vindicated. 

He says he is loving the experience of management without wriggle room but it makes for a strange type of affection. 

There were signs of the stress it triggers in the first leg against Real Madrid when he was booked for remonstrating in his technical area. He was outside it as much as he was inside it a week ago, such was his desperation to influence the game. 

However much they crave control, the 90 minutes of the game is when managers lose any semblance of it and at this time of the season in particular that is hard to deal with.

Guardiola was on his feet, pacing the edge of his zone inside five minutes on Saturday.  Rodri’s opener did nothing to settle the nerves.

On a couple of occasions, as Leeds pressed at the end of the first half, Guardiola was down on his imaginary blocks like a sprinter – padded coat on; padded cell beckoning.

Even after Nathan Ake’s second when City grew sloppy, Guardiola grew stroppy, flailing his arms around like a conductor on Beethoven’s Fifth. Only when Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho put the result out of sight did he finally chill.

Three more points were in the bag and the briefest of respites enjoyed before the pressure lever is ratcheted up all over again for Guardiola on Wednesday.

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