In a game of two halves, Manchester City came from 2-0 down to beat Swansea 2-3 in a thrilling FA Cup tie.
The win has sent Pep Guardiola’s men into the semi-finals, keeping alive his chances to win the only trophy he’s coached a team in and not won as well as Manchester City’s chance to win an unprecedented quadruple.
But what did we learn?
1. Aguero’s weird and wonderful cameo
With Manchester City 2-0 down and Riyad Mahrez performing about as stably as an empty packet of crisps in a windy alley, Pep Guardiola sent for star man Sergio Aguero. The Argentine entered the pitch on 64 minutes and instantly, the game had been changed. Aguero’s direct dynamism added so much of what was missing for City, but he also made several mistakes.
Less than five minutes after coming on, Aguero recovered a blocked shot and fed the ball smartly to Bernardo Silva who scored City’s opener. Less than 10 minutes after that, Aguero stepped up and wrapped a penalty off the post, but the ball hit Kristoffer Nordfeldt on the leg and bounced into the back of the net. What should have been a huge error ended up drawing City level.
Then things got really hairy, as City were breaking beautifully and Aguero had an easy pass on to Raheem Sterling but he sent the Englishman much further wide than he would have wanted. Sterling salvaged the chance by whipping a beautiful cross in for Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian forced a huge save from Nordfeldt but surely would have tapped in the rebound – but Aguero stepped onto the chance first and, with his worse angle, blasted the ball straight at Nordfeldt.
64′: Sergio Aguero comes on
69′: Sergio Aguero assists Bernardo
78′: Sergio Aguero forces the OG by Nordfeldt
88′: Sergio Aguero puts Man City 3-2 up pic.twitter.com/dHuRnVP8ih
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) March 16, 2019
Finally, just a few minutes later, Bernardo Silva whipped a delicious cross in from the left and a slightly offside Aguero headed the ball in at the near-post, giving City a colossal comeback win. It was a weird and wonderful cameo showing just how deadly Aguero can be, even when he is making mistakes he has enough about him to destroy opponents.
2. Fabian Delph should be left-back in the changing rooms
Benjamin Mendy spent the vast majority of last season out injured, yet City never really missed their £50m left-back because Fabian Delph stepped up so admirably. Of course the Englishman played the position differently to Mendy, but the point is he made it work.
Not so this season, where he has managed to look very much like a pretty good centre-mid playing at left-back. And at Swansea, he was simply terrible. Prosaic in possession to the point where even City’s centre-backs were more penetrative; and then of course it was almost entirely his fault that the match lurched towards Swansea when he hacked down Connor Roberts and gave Swansea a penalty.
When Guardiola made a like-for-like change, replacing Delph with Oleksandr Zinchenko even though his side was chasing a 0-2 deficit, it made total sense. And what’s more… it worked!
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3. VAR por favor
Manchester City were 2-0 down and staring elimination in the face. Yet they pulled it back to win 2-3 and progress to the semi-finals. An impressive turnaround, right? Well, sort of. No doubt City played with a lot more verve and intent after Guardiola’s changes, and Swansea were literally throwing bodies in the way to block shots, but the Citizens also got incredibly lucky.
Sure, the first goal was pure quality from City – but the penalty that Aguero converted (well, sort of) was a very, very generous award. One could even say that it was nonsense. Pure nonsense.
And then for Aguero’s winner, the Argentine was standing marginally offside. VAR would have sorted both of those decisions out (and either handed Swansea a deserved win, or forced City to fight harder to earn their comeback) and there’s really no reason it wasn’t in action for this tie.
Swansea’s stadium has the capabilities, why not use it? It’s unfair that Wolves and Manchester United will benefit from VAR this round, but not Swansea.
4. Connor Roberts had himself a day
Connor Roberts is a 23-year-old graduate of the Swansea youth academy. Playing right-back against Manchester City he had himself one hell of a day. It was a mixture of both good and bad, where he showed just why the Swans faithful are right to adore him but on the other hand…
— The Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) March 16, 2019
Well, City spent the vast majority of their afternoon attacking Roberts. First through Leroy Sané, then Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva. And those players found oceans of space out there. Roberts was often all at sea trying to deal with these skilful players and it was genuinely surprising it took 70 minutes for City to bag a goal from that channel (in the end they got two, their first and their winner)
But then it’s easy to forget all of that because the young Welshman pulled off an incredible clearance off the line when David Silva’s shot appeared to be heading into the back of the net only for Roberts to appear and clear it away. And this just 15 minutes after his surging forward run win the penalty that put Swansea ahead. What an evening!
5. Bernardo Silva can do anything
Bernardo Silva barely played last season and many were crying out that Guardiola was misusing a special talent, but this season Bernardo has played constantly and blossomed into arguably City’s best midfielder. The Portuguese has been supreme, in different roles too!
For most of the game, Bernardo played as a central midfielder. From here, he dominated and kept City on the front foot with his passes and runs. Of course in other games this season he’s played right-wing, and with Riyad Mahrez underperforming that was where he could have moved to, but instead Pep Guardiola put Silva on the left.
Having a leftie on the left was getting joy earlier in the match with Leroy Sané (before Sané picked up a knock) and putting Bernardo out there had an even more deadly effect. Bernardo hammered home City’s first goal with a delicious trivela, and then set-up the winner with a perfectly measured cross. Centre-mid, right-wing, now left-wing… is there anything Bernardo Silva can’t do?