Manchester City’s pursuit of an unprecedented double Cup double continues unabated. Three days after winning the Carabao Cup final, they progressed to the FA Cup quarter-final. No one else has won both the FA Cup and the League Cup in successive seasons. City are now 270 minutes from another historic feat.
That sense of achievement should resonate when a forgettable game has been banished from the memories. City can chalk up the goals in Cup competitions, subjecting unfortunate victims to supersized scorelines, but this was not one of those occasions. Sheffield Wednesday emerged with reputation enhanced and dignity intact, a team on the slide in the Championship playing with renewed resolve as they only conceded once and restricted the holders to no shots on target in the first half.
City emerged with more intent after the interval and the winner came from a predictable source. Sergio Aguero’s shot crept under Joe Wildsmith, the goalkeeper’s touch proving in vain. It was a 254th City goal for Aguero, meaning their record scorer now has more than Manchester United’s. His supplier was Benjamin Mendy; denied a first City goal a few minutes earlier when his thunderbolt hit the woodwork. The left-back compensated with an assist, sliding the ball into Aguero’s path. Pep Guardiola’s half-time team talk had an impact: Wildsmith, with a double save from Rodri and John Stones and further stops from Riyad Mahrez and the substitute Raheem Sterling, prevented them from extending their lead.
The first half had formed a strange impasse. Wednesday’s resistance appeared unlikely; a team who had conceded nine goals in their previous four games against bottom-half Championship sides instead offering a reminder of Garry Monk’s ability to configure a defence. Joey Pelupessy, Wednesday’s spectacularly anonymous central midfielder, touched the ball three times before the break, but their rearguard held firm.
Monk’s decision to give goalkeeper Wildsmith a first start since August 2018 seemed an unnecessary risk, exposing one who is often third choice against a team with City’s capacity to run riot. Instead, he began as a spectator during City’s spells of sterile domination, their possession being interrupted by Wednesday’s occasional threat from Jacob Murphy’s trickery and Barry Bannan’s set-pieces, and ended with a string of saves.
While the perimeter hoardings advertised Viagra, City suffered from early impotence. They failed to register a shot on target in the first half. Gabriel Jesus headed wide and missed his kick in front of goal while Nicolas Otamendi met Mahrez’s in-swinging free kick with a thumping header that rebounded back off the bar. The Algerian’s dead-ball delivery offered menace but City had rather less in open play.
Cue an improvement after Guardiola’s half-time words. Mendy was a factor, Mahrez another. Yet one goal amounted to a perilous lead. One Wednesday substitute, Steven Fletcher, almost applied the finishing touch to a cross from another replacement, Alex Hunt. Mahrez was booked for the most obvious tactical foul of City’s season, to stop Murphy escaping. Claudio Bravo kept a clean sheet, aided by the reality he did not have a save to make. After City had scored 14 goals in their previous three FA Cup games, this was anti-climactic. But it was another hurdle negotiated.
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