Manchester City ease into FA Cup quarter-finals
Huddersfield Town ship five goals after taking surprise lead
Sergio Agüero scores Manchester City’s fourth goal during the FA Cup fifth-round replay at the Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters/Livepic
Manchester City 5 Huddersfield Town 1
Manchester City strode into the FA Cup quarter-finals with a victory over Huddersfield Town that was comfortable despite the concession of an early opener.
Pep Guardiola’s side travel to Middlesbrough next on Saturday week and will be firm favourites to knock out Aitor Karanka’s team and reach next month’s Wembley semi-finals.
City’s last game had been the 5-3 thriller here with Monaco, meaning a break of just over a week. Four of those days were spent in the warmth of Abu Dhabi, where Guardiola met the owner, Sheikh Mansour, for the first time.
The trip refreshed mid-season batteries yet still City were caught slumbering as Huddersfield took a sixth-minute lead through Harry Bunn. This was simple stuff – too easy, really, from City’s viewpoint, as Philip Billing advanced on Claudio Bravo’s goal, found Bunn and the former City trainee and professional steadied himself to beat Bravo.
The finish went under the Chilean’s arms, the latest error in a season pock-marked by them, as the visiting fans reeled off a few chants of “Who are you?”.
Before the goal City were bright – Leroy Sané smacked the ball off Joel Coleman’s left post – and they continued in similar manner. After Mark Hudson was booked for downing Sergio Agüero, Kevin De Bruyne took the free-kick but found only Coleman’s gloves.
Next there were twin penalty appeals that involved the same player, Jon Stankovic, going to ground and seeming to handle inside the area. The first time De Bruyne swerved inside and wrong-footed the defender, who appeared to touch the ball with a hand. A little later it was Raheem Sterling, who this time tried a cross and again looked to have seen it deflected by Stankovic’s digits. On both occasions, though, the referee, Paul Tierney, was not interested.
Later, after City had equalised, the official did point to the spot as once more Jankovic was the culprit, the No 27 pulling Nicolás Otamendi to the floor in the 33rd minute. Up stepped Agüero to rifle in his 21st goal of the season.
City’s earlier goal had come from some slick work from Sterling. With half an hour played the winger took the ball along the right and four or five dazzling step-overs later Tareiq Holmes-Dennis required a lie down and the ball into Sané left the German an open goal.
This proved a floodgate-opener for City as Agüero’s penalty was followed by Guardiola’s side going 3-1 up with 38 minutes on the clock. This time the Argentinian was provider. After his fierce shot was beaten out by Coleman, Agüero retrieved the ball and squared to Pablo Zabaleta and the right back rolled home his second of the season.
Another goal for City and the tie would surely be over. Entering this replay Huddersfield’s last defeat had been on January 14th when David Wagner’s side lost at Sheffield Wednesday. Yet with the Terriers six points off the automatic promotion place in the Championship the German signalled the priority by making nine changes, as only Collin Quaner and Dean Whitehead remained from Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Barnsley.
Guardiola also showed what he thinks of this competition – that it is there to be won – by changing only four from the Monaco win. Those who missed out were Willy Caballero, Yaya Touré, David Silva and Bacary Sagna.
The score as the second half started vindicated the Catalan’s selection policy. The task for his men now was to keep Town out and hunt for more goals. The opening opportunity to do the latter came when Agüero and Sané sprinted into space down the left. The centre forward pushed the ball into the wide man’s path but his first touch was clumsy, Coleman could smother, and Guardiola pirouetted in exasperation.
The contest was being largely played in the middle third. The sense was of City toying with their opponents ready to thrust forward at any moment and pose Town a difficult question. After the scare at the start they were in cruise control and seemed to be coasting into the next round.
This was confirmed by a fourth goal that arrived on 72 minutes, fashioned in pinball-style as Fernandinho found Zabaleta who found Sterling whose instant delivery was smashed past Coleman.
A few minutes later Agüero offered the kind of pressing from the front Guardiola adores, forcing the ball to be punted back to City. It brought hands-over-his head applause from the manager.
Following Kelechi Iheanacho’s late fifth, the manager surely felt the same regarding his side’s performance. It was professional and impressive. But the ironic cheers that greeted Bravo when safely collecting might trouble Guardiola: the goalkeeper remains a liability.