Manchester City comfortably beat Middlesbrough at the Riverside stadium to book a place at the Wembley for the semi-finals of the FA Cup for the first time since 2013.
A tale of two trophies
Following Wednesday’s goalless draw with Stoke at home – which virtually ended any hopes of a title challenge – all eyes turned towards the FA Cup and Champions League. City were to play Middlesbrough on Saturday before travelling to Monaco on Tuesday to try and see through their 5-3 aggregate lead.
Pep Guardiola knows his relatively tame league campaign can be more than salvaged with two trophies. City are already headed to Wembley while City also stand out as this season’s dark horses for the Champions League trophy. There’s a consensus that Pep has finally got his team to click in the past two months and City’s unbeaten 11 match run across that period is proof of that. There have been some superb performances from Pep’s men recently, both offensively and at the back and there’s a feeling that still more to come. Surely there’ll be some silverware at end of the season to show for it?
A complete and dominant performance
Aitor Karanka, Mourinho’s side-man for so many years, was completely out-matched by Pep Guardiola. The visitors played negatively, mustering little possession and fewer shots. Just as they have done throughout his season, they played solely through Adama Traore and set-pieces. You can see why they struggle to score many goals.
But City still had to break down a tough defensive unit and in fairness, they made light work of that. With Yaya Toure at the base dictating playing and threading passes almost like a quarter-back, De Bruyne and Silva got involved in the final third. Sané and Sterling – City’s major attacking threat now, produced the goods again, tormenting Middlesbrough and adding an assist each to their ever-rising goal contribution tallies. Aguero continued his excellent goal-scoring form.
No-one has yet managed to blunt City’s attack since Sané became a first-team regular. And that more than anything should provide City with the hope and optimism they need to end the season strongly.
Clean sheets galore
Another factor for hope and optimism is Manchester City’s defence. The shambolic – sometimes comedic – defending of months that tormented Guardiola past finally appears to be over. There is a thought process to how his defenders work together now, with everyone appearing to finally reap the rewards of his notoriously complex positional play. John Stones has come leaps and bounds, Otamendi does less stupid things while most ironically, the reinstatement of Yaya Toure has offered the cover that the back-line needed that Fernandinho just couldn’t provide, for some reason.
It’s taken him a while, but just like at his previous two clubs, Pep Guardiola has perhaps found the balance that can make his defence the meanest in the league. A club record of six successive away clean sheets is testament to that.