Manchester City advanced to the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup on Sunday afternoon, defeating Birmingham City by three goals to nil at the Etihad Stadium.
Goals from Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden in an impressive first-half display from Pep Guardiola’s side ensured that City would be in the fourth round draw, as Aitor Karanka’s side were unable to cause an unlikely upset at Eastlands.
After booking their place in the final of another competition with a 2-0 win over Manchester United in midweek, the Carabao Cup isn’t the only piece of silverware Guardiola will want to get his hands on this season. He’s taking the FA Cup seriously, and that showed in his team selection, with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva all starting in an attack likely to frighten any team in world football, let alone Championship strugglers Birmingham.
With only eight minutes on the clock, it was the latter who broke the deadlock. Joao Cancelo’s attempted cross to Riyad Mahrez was cut out by George Friend, but his poor clearance fell to Silva, who found the roof of the net with an acrobatic effort from just inside the area. 1-0 to City, and a mountain to climb for the visitors already.
It took another seven minutes for Silva to double City’s lead, too. His first goal was all about individual brilliance, however this one was a superb team effort. Pass after pass after pass resulted in Mahrez fizzing the ball with the outside of his left foot down the flank for De Bruyne to chase. The Belgian cut the ball back across goal, and there was Silva to sweep the ball home and make it 2-0 after 12 minutes.
Approaching the half-hour mark and City continued to assert their dominance on the game. Pep Guardiola’s side having 81% of the ball, with Blues chasing shadows and failing to register a shot.
Jesus went about hitting the ground running upon his return to the side. The Brazilian was slipped in by De Bruyne, but saw his close-range effort denied by Andres Prieto who got down low.
Prieto was helpless and was unable to prevent a third goal for City on 33 minutes, however.
Rodri was the catalyst here, playing the through to Mahrez who went about driving forward before slipping the ball into Foden’s path. The England international took a touch to cut the ball onto his left foot, steadying himself, before firing into the bottom corner from the edge of the area. 3-0, game, set and match with just over half-an-hour on the clock.
It could well have been even more embarrassing for Karanka’s side moments later. De Bruyne – off balance amid pressure from Jake Clarke-Salter – cut Blues’ defence in half with a perfectly weighted pass with his left foot. Jesus latched onto it, beating Ivan Sanchez for pace down the left before chipping the ball over the onrushing Prieto, an effort which had to be cleared off the line by Maikel Kieftenbeld.
The half entered its latter stages with City still firmly in the driving seat, hardly breaking a sweat as Birmingham chased shadows. Mahrez was the next to try and get his name on the ever-growing scoresheet, but his free-kick was placed just inches over the crossbar from 25 yards, before the half-time whistle blew.
Changes were made by both sides at the interval. Minutes given to John Stones, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Felix Nmecha from a City perspective, replacing Ruben Dias, De Bruyne and Cancelo. Karanka, looking to shore things up, replaced Scott Hogan and Jon Toral with Adam Clayton and Marc Roberts, switching his formation to a 3-4-3.
Blues were a lot more rigid defensively and cut out City’s ability to attack down the flanks, which was proving to be a real threat in the opening 45 minutes. On the contrary, they were still failing to show any signs of attacking threat themselves, suggesting that they very much looking to keep the score down.
Silva nearly had his hat-trick on the hour mark. A surging forward run by Kyle Walker resulted in a dangerous ball across goal, but the Portuguese playmaker could only poke wide as he fell to the ground. Riyad Mahrez had the ball in the net a minute later, but after volleying in from Rodri’s cross, he was deemed to be in an offside position.
Further changes were made by both sides on 66 minutes. A change in midfield for the hosts with Fernandinho replacing Rodri. Karanka bringing on Lukas Jutkiewicz and Jeremie Bela on for Jonathan Leko, as the Spaniard looked to add a bit of impetus and inspiration in the final third.
Silva had another chance to grab his third goal of the afternoon shortly before, skewing a shot wide after pouncing on a loose ball inside a congested area.
There was a chance for Liam Delap to impress as he replaced Jesus on 75 minutes. City taking their foot off the gas, but still well in control of the tie. The striker, seven minutes after coming on, should have done much better with a free header from Silva’s cross, but placed well wide.
Birmingham ended the contest strongly, though, with Bela flashing a dangerous shot across goal but wide of Zack Steffen’s far post. The winger threatened again three minutes after, shooting inches over the bar with a left-footed drive. Another effort was parried into the path of Jutkiewicz moments later, but the goalkeeper did well to palm the ball away from danger.
After two minutes were added on at the end of the half, the final whistle blew. City through, after a game in which was decided by a rampant first half display.
An improved performance from Birmingham in the second half, but the damage was already done.