Manchester City booked themselves a trip to Wembley after a convincing win over Middlesbrough at the Riverside. The Blues won 0-2 to take them to the semi finals of the FA Cup in a competition most see as Pep’s best chance of silverware in his first season in Manchester.
Boro manager Aitor Karanka didn’t hold back in his pre-match press conference in talking about Pep in a derogatory manner, but ultimately Pep’s side played Karanka’s relegation scrapping side off the pitch.
Many view the front six fielded today by City as the strongest possible – they hadn’t played together since the 5-3 victory over Monaco, and they started where they left off in that game.
Inside the first three minutes, David Silva fired City ahead with a nice finish. Take nothing away from Silva’s efforts, but this goal was all about Yaya Touré, who effortlessly found a charging Zabaleta who arrived late into the box in a vintage Zabaleta way. Zaba couldn’t believe the space he had in the box, and caressed the ball into an area populated with City players – Silva finished well.
Nine City players touched the ball in the build up to that goal, as the ball was knocked from side to side with attacking intent. The way City controlled possession for the opening goal, but also over the course of the game, shows just why we were all so excited when the club announced that Pep Guardiola would take the reigns of management.
Earlier in the season in the league fixture with Middlesbrough, City dominated the ball, created chances but couldn’t finish them off – the game finished as a draw. There were signs of a repeat of this today, as Boro caused a few ‘heart in mouth moments’ for the City travelling faithful. Bravo made a save from a glancing header – I don’t know how much he knew about the stop which was cleared by Zabaleta, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that it was intentional and not just a case of the ball hitting him.
That chance was one of the very few opportunities Middlesbrough managed to muster up this afternoon. Credit to City, the home side struggled to get the ball, and when they had it they did next to nothing with it. City passed it around with ease, and Middlesbrough’s aggressive midfielders were chasing shadows in De Bruyne and Silva. It was a miracle that Leadbitter remained on the pitch after a bad tackle or two – which was a theme of the afternoon for Boro, as City were lucky not to be forced into any injury based substitutions, with one eye on the Monaco game on Wednesday.
In the second half, City had a new lease of energy and urgency. Sané’s blistering pace was too much for Barragan on the right side of defence, and he was unlucky a couple of times not to double the lead. Silva and Sterling also asked questions of Brad Guzan, who was Boro’s best player this afternoon.
Eventually, City did double the lead and got their deserved two-goal cushion. Sergio Agüero dart to the front post, cross, Sergio Agüero goal. That is a sentence that I may as well copy and paste from my reports from a number of games in the last few weeks. Sergio’s movement off the ball is nothing new, but he took his chance well, and made sure Guzan wouldn’t deny him again, with a tidy finish.
The only complaints from this point are that City didn’t score again, as a number of chances went begging. But that takes nothing away from a brilliant away performance. In truth, if it wasn’t for Guzan in the sticks, and also Ben Gibson at the back, it would’ve been four or five quite easily.
Boro could’ve clawed one back near the end, but City’s defence dealt with everything thrown at them today. Without jinxing Wednesday night, the defensive woes of late 2016, seem a thing of the past, with City registering their sixth clean sheet on the bounce away from home.
It wasn’t the free-scoring City we saw in the previous rounds, that put five past Huddersfield, five past West Ham and three past Palace, but it was a professional performance. Sané and his pal Sterling on the other side were outstanding again, and De Bruyne put his poor performance last Wednesday behind him, with an impressive display alongside David Silva.
Pep had the luxury of resting the likes of Sané and Touré towards the end, with City fans being treated to a Nolito cameo, who will be annoyed that he didn’t get a goal of his own, after an impressive display. City travel to Monte Carlo with an in form attack led by a hungry Sergio Agüero.