Manchester City returned to the top of the Premier League after thumping Leeds United 4-0 at Elland Road on Saturday to lead the table by one point, although the reigning champions were made to work harder than the scoreline suggested.
Liverpool had regained top spot earlier in the day with a 1-0 win at Newcastle United, putting pressure on City to respond against a Leeds side battling to avoid relegation.
An early goal settled City’s nerves, with Spanish midfielder Rodri glancing a header into the net to give the visitors the lead with 13 minutes on the clock.
Leeds kept the pressure up, with a raucous crowd doing everything in their power to make life difficult for City, but Nathan Ake’s goal in the 54th minute effectively ended any hope the home fans had of getting anything from the match.
Leeds continued to miss chances before City put the game to bed 12 minutes from time as Gabriel Jesus continued his fine form in front of goal with another strike before Fernandinho put the icing on the cake with a stoppage-time fourth.
City’s fourth win in a row in all competitions put them back at the top on 83 points from 34 games ahead ofsecond-placed Liverpool, while Leeds slipped to 17th, five points above the drop zone but having played two more games than Everton in 18th.
“We knew coming here the way they play, we suffered a lot in the first half,” Guardiola said. “But in the end we had control and could have scored more. An incredible result for us.
“They are so fast up front. We defended well and sometimes in these type of games set pieces become so important. Today was so important to make our chances to be champions again.”
On paper Leeds looked up against it, taking on a City side who travelled to Yorkshire unbeaten away in the league since a 1-0 loss at Tottenham Hotspur on the opening weekend, having been thrashed 7-0 in the reverse fixture early in the season.
But with City boss Pep Guardiola making five changes to his side with Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final, second-leg clash at Real Madrid in mind, which they will start with a 4-3 lead, the visitors looked a little disjointed from the off.
After surviving early pressure from the hosts, Rodri timed his run to perfection to get on the end of Ilkay Gundogan’s free-kick and break the deadlock. It was City’s 17th goal from a set piece this term – more than any other Premier League side.
The champions continued to misplace passes to give Leeds plenty of moments of promise, but poor finishing and a wayward final pass meant the home side could not capitalise.
City continued to look nervy after the break but Leeds still lacked that killer instinct with another goal from a corner, this time stabbed home by Ake, punishing the profligate hosts.
Jesus’ strike in the 78th minute – his sixth in his last three games in all competitions – meant City could relax with their return leg at Real to come in midweek, safe in the knowledge they remain the team to catch in the Premier League.
A rare goal from Fernandinho, who drilled the ball home from the edge of the box late on, completed a perfect afternoon for the defending champions against a side who will wonder how they came away having been beaten so comprehensively.
“The result was worse than we hoped but the performance was better,” said Leeds coach Jesse Marsch. “We played with confidence. It didn’t feel like a 4-0 match.
“We had momentum and controlled their movements. It’s disappointing to lose so big but even the fans and the way they responded after the game is a reflection of what the performance was.”