Manchester City vs Bristol City League Cup semi-final: 5 things we learnt
The Etihad Stadium was the stage for the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final between Manchester City and Bristol City. The Championship side came into the tie as the clear underdogs despite having knocked Manchester United out of the competition in the previous round. The Citizens’ form this season makes them a different kettle of fish from their city neighbours, United.
Holding City to a draw may have been the best The Robbins could have hoped for. With a second leg to play, all the Championship side will need to do is to make home advantage count and pull off the biggest surprise of the season by edging out another Manchester club to complete the job. This could be achieved with either a narrow win or through the luck of the penalty shoot-out.
But with Pep Guardiola’s side taking a lead into the second leg, things look much more difficult. Be that as it may, there were key things that stood out in the cracker:
Guardiola is launching an assault on all trophies this season
After going the whole of last season without winning a single trophy for the first time in his coaching career, the Catalan is doing whatever is necessary to make amends. He selected a strong line-up to face the Championship club, thereby revealing his desire to make this the first trophy of his time at City.
With the club having to face Liverpool in their next match on Sunday, one would have expected the tactician to rest his midfield general, Kevin De Bruyne. But the Belgian was made to play the full match as Guardiola a win. Even though some key players were rested for the tie, there were still enough first-team players on the pitch to ensure things went well. The likes of John Stones, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and of course De Bruyne were all in the starting XI. Sergio Aguero and Kyle Walker were thrown into the mix in the second half with City searching for the match winner.
Bristol City deserve to get to the final
Despite knocking out Jose Mourinho’s side from the competition, many people may have expected Man City to overrun the away side at the Etihad Stadium given City’s dominance this season. A 4-1 thrashing of Burnley in the FA Cup would be a timely reminder of how ruthless The Sky Blues can get. But just like Burnley in the first half, Bristol City stuck to their guns and showed Man City they were not here for sight-seeing.
The Championship side gave a good account of themselves defending stoutly and launching counter-attacks that almost caught City’s defence napping. With the home side’s backline stuttering, a combination of errors from both Mangala and Stones led to Anthony Taylor pointing to the penalty spot. It was an undeniable penalty. Bobby Reid stepped up to put the away side in front much to the delight of the travelling fans.
With a near-perfect team organization and sharp passes that left even the onrushing Kevin De Bruyne stranded, the away side thoroughly deserved their lead. Their overall performance showed they deserved to proceed to the finals. But it’s a game of two halves and City was to have the last laugh on the night.
The Citizens are the new comeback kings
Just as it was in the match against Burnley and many others before it this season, Man City came back from a goal down at half-time to win. When it happened once we thought it was a coincidence. Twice we thought it was luck. But having become the norm, City can now be crowned comeback kings.
City’s defence may be the team’s Achilles heel
Nicolas Otamendi got a well-deserved rest on the night and so Eliaquim Mangala was paired with Stones at the heart of the defence. The Frenchman, however, seemed to be jittery every time he was faced with an opposition player. It was his error which led to Reid’s advance into the penalty box. Stones’ attempt to make up for his partner’s error led to the penalty as he brought down Reid in the process.
This is the second needless goal conceded due to errors from center backs within a week. Recall that it was Stones’ error which led to Burnley’s goal in their previous match. Yes, City came back to beat Burnley emphatically and qualify, but when you face the best teams in Europe it may not be that easy to make a comeback. One such error and that may the end of the match.
In De Bruyne and Aguero, Guardiola can trust
More often than not, when Man City has found itself in difficulties this season, either Kevin De Bruyne or Sergio Aguero has stepped up to save the day. (That’s apart from Sterling, of course.) And Tuesday was no different as the duo scored in the second half to give City a 2-1 lead heading into the second leg. Aguero’s 92nd-minute winner may have all but sealed progression to the finals for The Citizens as even a draw away will be enough to go through.