Manchester City kicked off their FA Cup run in style with a comfortable victory over their Championship visitors.
A first-half goal blitz saw Pep Guardiola’s men into the next round, with the draw coming on Monday night.
Here’s what we learned from another good day at the Etihad…
Bernardo’s Brilliant Brace
It’s been a long time since Bernardo Silva scored more than once in a game for City. In fact, he’d only managed the feat once before, in last season’s 8-0 demolition of Watford. And this season, while there have ben flashes of the Portuguese winger’s raw talent, his overall output has fallen well short of the usual standards.
All that changed on Sunday when he opened the scoring with a world-class strike from just inside the area. Keeping the ball down was impressive in itself, but getting enough power on it to beat the keeper was something else entirely. It’ll certainly go down as one of the best goals City fans will see this season.
He followed it up soon after with a much simpler finish, getting into the perfect position to finish off De Bruyne’s cutback. If Bernardo’s got his bite back, City’s title challenge will only grow stronger.
Gerrard, Lampard… Foden?
It feels like true goalscoring midfielders are getting rarer in modern football. Frank Lampard would regularly breeze past a dozen goals a season, and Steven Gerrard notched up almost two hundred in his career, but think of the best midfield players in the world at the moment: Kimmich, Modric, Casemiro, Kanté. Are any of them known for scoring often? Not really.
The only big exceptions are people like Kevin de Bruyne, who it looks like Phil Foden has been taking lessons in long shots from. There was more than a hint of the Belgian in the way Foden smashed it low and hard into the bottom corner to get his seventh goal of the season – to put that into context, his personal record for a single campaign is eight.
When Foden is a regular starter for us (as in, thirty to thirty-four league starts a season), he has the talent to be bagging thrice that from midfield. The late, great Colin Bell is City’s highest-scoring ever midfielder with 153, and there’s not a City fan in the world who wouldn’t love to see Foden reach those levels of brilliance for us.
Defence Triumphs Again
Remember when we shipped five to Leicester? I do. Sometimes I have nightmares about it. It scarred me to the point that I doubt I’ll ever touch WKD again (although that’s not a huge loss).
But those nightmares are becoming less and less frequent, thanks to our huge improvement at the back since. Today, Zack Steffen picked up City’s fifteenth clean sheet of the season, meaning we’ve kept the opposition from scoring in almost 60% of our matches.
While this is largely down to the great form of John Stones and Ruben B-as, today’s game highlighted that Pep’s system, when working properly, lends itself well to conceding few chances no matter who’s in defence.
We played the first half without Stones, and the second half without Dias, and there was no Ederson at all- but we still kept the visitors from having too many chances. It’s not normal at all for City fans to be watching us concede so few. That’s three goals conceded in our last thirteen games. Three. If we can reproduce that form in the business end of the season, we could be on for a turnaround for the ages here.
Kyle Walker Is Still An Option In The Middle
While Kyle Walker is used almost exclusively as a centre-back by England manager Gareth Southgate, that’s in a back three, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen Pep deploy him in a traditional back four. Today he proved that his prospects in that position are still very much alive.
It’s not completely clear why Walker was chosen for this match over some of the more natural options, but he did a perfectly good job in the first half before being shifted out to the right side after the break. With Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Aké not getting as many minutes as either would have liked so far this season, it’s good to know that Walker is a possible replacement there if we get one or two injuries. But then nobody would be unlucky enough to lose three key centre-backs at the same time, would they?
Quadruple = On
While it can sometimes be frustrating not to see more young players in the starting XI, I think we underestimate how lucky we are to have a manager who always takes the cups seriously. If he didn’t, there’s no way we’d have managed three Carabao Cups and an FA Cup under him – and this year we could be on for at least one more trophy.
The Premier League title challenge is, despite what we thought a few weeks ago, alive and well. In the Champions League anything can happen (although my expectations are low for that one). We’re into the League Cup final, and now Pep’s made his intentions in the world’s most prestigious domestic cup extremely clear.
So, after a rather disappointing season last year, I think today is just another reason to be optimistic that we might get to see City lift a couple of trophies this year.
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