Venue: Etihad Stadium
Date: 9 January 2018
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Kick off: 19:45
The Carabao Cup returns on Tuesday evening as Manchester City look to take a giant step towards their first of a potential four trophies this season. After overcoming West Brom at the Hawthorns in September thanks to a mercurial Leroy Sané, then beating both Wolves and Leicester via the medium of penalties, City face this year’s Championship surprise package Bristol City in the two-legged semi-finals of a competition City have won twice in the last four seasons.
City are in white-hot form and have been widely applauded as one of the best teams in the world, if not the best. Their opponents find themselves fourth in the Championship, a major surprise to many given that the Robins finished in 17th last season, a mere three points clear of relegated Blackburn. In fact, it was a late surge of form, winning four of their last six games, which likely saved them from relegation, even claiming all three points at the Amex Stadium against an already promoted Brighton in the penultimate match day.
To get to this stage, Bristol City have pulled up some serious trees. Besting Watford by three goals to two in a fantastic game at Vicarage Road in the second round, the Robins then beat Stoke 2-0 at Ashton Gate before routing Crystal Palace 4-1 in the round of 16. Most impressive of all, of course, was the defeat of Manchester United. Joe Bryan opened the scoring early in the second half before Zlatan equalised almost immediately. But Korey Smith produced what all football fans dream of, a last-minute winner which sent the twenty-six thousand at Ashton Gate into raptures.
Could Bristol scalp their biggest and best opponent yet as eight thousand Bristolians make the journey to Manchester?
City were lifted in the game against Watford by the surprise returns of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Fabian Delph and John Stones. Silva and Stones featured from the start and played the full 90 minutes, Kevin De Bruyne played fifteen minutes at the end whereas Fabian Delph was omitted completely from the squad. This was likely just a resting measure rather than an indication of injury, and no mention of any injury implies that Delph is back.
Moreover, other than the obvious long-term injuries to Benjamin Mendy and Gabriel Jesus, and the constant question mark over the fitness of Vincent Kompany, we appear to have a clean-bill of health. Many are wondering what this will mean for Pep’s line-up, with Liverpool at Anfield posing a large threat to our unbeaten streak in the Premier League at the weekend. It’s likely Sergio Agüero will start thanks both to his great game against Burnley and current lack of competition, whilst Claudio Bravo may see his second consecutive game thanks to the diminished importance in light of this weekend.
This season has been a stunning one for Bristol City so far. They’ve recorded memorable victories over Premier League heavyweights and been excellent in the league. Propelled forward by the goals of Bobby Reid and the leadership of club captain and important-goal-scoring centre-half Aden Flint, the Robins find themselves only two points off second in the Championship, having built up a five-point gap between themselves and Sheffield United in seventh. However, despite this, they have lost each of their last three games. These losses include a 3-0 drubbing by Watford in the FA Cup, a last-gasp loss to Championship high flyers Wolves at Ashton Gate, but perhaps most stingingly of all, a 5-0 decimation at the hands of Aston Villa.
Outside of Flint and Reid, Jamie Paterson has chipped in with goals, not least a stunner at Bramhall Lane against Sheffield United, whilst attacking left-back Joe Bryan, one of the heroes in that historic victory over Manchester United, has been excellent. The manager, former Robins player Lee Johnson has been incredibly magnanimous about City in the press, stating that he believes this side will surpass the ‘Class of 92’ and the ‘great Liverpool sides’ which preceded them, but has taken much confidence from this season’s exploits. Who wouldn’t?
It would be impossible to talk about Bristol City without their unbelievable gif game on Twitter. Hopefully we won’t be seeing any of them over the two legs, though.
Whilst Bristol City have been in stunning form this season and now have a penchant for giant-killing, and City have been mostly lacklustre in every game so far in the competition, it’s hard to look past City on paper. Football isn’t played on paper though, and much will rely on the side Pep sends out, but I expect not only a strong side but also a strong result. I think Manchester City will beat Bristol City 4-0, with Sergio Agüero taking more steps to his 200th Manchester City goal, a milestone he is only 13 goals off.