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City cruised into the fifth round of the FA Cup with a professional but incident-packed triumph at Cardiff on Sunday and with the transfer window perilously close to ‘slamming shut’, there’s plenty to discuss.
Let’s start with the victory in South Wales. Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling were on the scoresheet in a 2-0 win, while Bernardo Silva also shone. However, there were some questionable and controversial talking points too.
Overall, the press were impressed with the Blues’ display.
Jack Pitt-Brooke of the Independent purred: “The great Manchester City machine rolls on.
“Pep Guardiola’s side showed up in Cardiff this afternoon, chasing a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup, facing as direct, physical and unwelcoming a side as they will face all season.
“Guardiola has achieved a fair bit in the game, but he has never come up against a Neil Warnock side before. But under pressure and provocation from Cardiff, Manchester City stood up for themselves, imposed their football, took a 2-0 first half lead and never let go.
“This should have been a huge day for Cardiff, hosting the best team in the country, in front of a new club-record crowd of 32,339. But in truth their players could make no impression on the afternoon beyond their excessive tackling.
“With Guardiola, the evolution never stops and so Manchester City came to Cardiff with a new approach they had not used before this season: Bernardo Silva as a false nine.
“Guardiola knew that Cardiff would mark man-to-man so having Silva as an optional extra midfielder helped City to keep the ball, as well as dragging the Cardiff defenders out of place, giving them a new problem to solve.
“This meant the Cardiff defence had no idea who to pick up, which only made it harder when City’s runners arrived into the box.
“Faced with this whirr of purple shirts, Cardiff’s only response was to kick out. But that cost them when De Bruyne scored the first goal from a free-kick.
“Gundogan had been clattered by Joe Ralls on the edge of the box. After a lengthy stoppage, De Bruyne tapped the free-kick under the wall and into the bottom corner of the net.
“That was 1-0 and it was only some curious officiating that stopped Manchester City from doubling their lead soon after. De Bruyne found Silva who shuffled inside Ralls and hit an early shot into the near top corner of the net.
“Silva’s quick thinking was a surprise, but even more surprising was the flag disallowing it. Sane was ruled to have been both interfering in play and in an offside position. Neither of which was apparent on the replays.
“Guardiola was incensed but soon enough City did have their second. This time Silva popped up on the left wing and he whipped in a perfect left-footed cross, over the head of Bruno Ecuele Manga.
“Sterling was perfectly there, contorting his body to head it down, into the ground and into the net, for his 19th goal of the season.
“That was City in the hat for the fifth round, more or less, but they could not relax from there. Sane was cut down by Bennett, and that meant Aguero, who started on the bench, had to come on for the second half.
“Manchester City were happy enough to pass the ball between themselves after that, especially with a tiring Cardiff side reluctant to press them too high up the pitch.
“Cardiff never looked like getting seriously back into the game. They had barely threatened from the start, their main first half approach coming from long balls and second balls.
“City did not exactly leave unscathed, but they did leave as winners.”
The Guardian’s David Hynter reflected: “Guardiola had omitted David Silva and Sergio Agüero from his starting lineup but it remained an imposing selection and City’s confidence was reflected in the fizz of their passing.
“Their attack-minded players interchanged positions fluently and, at times, it was remarkable to see how much space they enjoyed in central areas.
“The home support were noticeably hushed and worried whenever City swept forward. De Bruyne and Sané bristled with menace.
“The gulf in class between the teams was obvious and Cardiff did what they could do bridge it – often through foul means.”
The Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel agreed: “Clase maestra, if Pep Guardiola requires a translation on Monday morning. Master class.
“He will have been seeing that phrase a lot this season and his English may not yet extend to the outer reaches of the superlatives.
“And what a clase maestra this was. Forget the gulf between the teams, one walking away with the Premier League, one scuffling with all their might to join it. Cardiff are a Neil Warnock team, with all that implies. They are hard-working, physical, uncompromising.
“Warnock is a specialist at busting teams out of England's second tier and has been responsible for some decent cup surprises, too. This was never going to be one of them.
“Instead, it was City who shocked: with their invention, their speed, the relentlessness of Guardiola's attacking philosophy.
“Warnock thought he had prepared his players for this new wave: but there were times when they looked nothing less than overwhelmed by what they were up against. City are a team that think differently; that approach goal and score in a unique way.”
Jordan Seward of the same source discussed the possibility of VAR and the effect it could have had on the clash.
He wrote: “Were VAR in use for this FA Cup clash the scoreline and the number of players who took to the pitch in the second half would have been entirely different.
“The positive thing is it did not impact the outcome. Despite the controversy it caused in Liverpool's game with West Brom where it was called upon on eight separate occasions, it would have actually come in handy here in Cardiff.
“The system has been dividing opinions ever since the Football Association introduced it into English football at the beginning of the month but this game was the perfect example where it could have been so effective. First, the Silva goal, which has already been touched upon.
“The second time it would have corrected the referee's decision was when Joseph Bennett brought down Sane in full flow on the stroke of half-time. At first sight it was a professional foul deserving of a yellow card. Referee Lee Mason thought so too and duly brandished the card.
“But replays showed the extent of the foul. Bennett's studs, full facing, sunk into the back of Sane's calf. It looked a lot uglier than it did initially and it certainly would have given Mason something to think about.”
On a brighter note, De Bruyne earned the plaudits from Sky Sports.
Richard Morgan hailed: “The Belgium international laid on another midfield masterclass, controlling the encounter from start to finish with his inch-perfect long-range passing, subtle touches and clever finishing.
“The highlight of the player's day, however, was his early, cheeky free-kick that fooled the Cardiff wall for his 10th goal of the campaign.
“And of those strikes, De Bruyne has now scored six from outside the box, at least two more than any other Premier League player.”
Eurosport echoed: “The Belgian produced a masterclass performance in midfield, opening the scoring with his 10th goal of the season and terrorising the hosts with a number of defence-splitting passes. At his best, the 26-year-old is simply unplayable.”
Bernardo Silva also earned deserved acclaim, as the Manchester Evening News’ Richard Fay reported.
He scribed: “The Blues eased past Cardiff in the FA Cup fourth round, inspired by a superb display from Bernardo Silva .
“The 23-year-old was man of the match playing in an unorthodox false nine role in the City attack.
“His attacking intelligence was best displayed in the build up to the second goal as he drifted out wide and drilled in a perfect left-footed cross to set up Raheem Sterling .
“And he was unfortunate not to mark the pivotal display with a wonderful goal, his ferocious strike was controversially disallowed for offside.
“Bernardo earned the nickname 'bubble gum' during his time at Monaco for the manner in which the ball appeared to stick to his feet - and it seems he is close to hitting those heights again.
“Pep Guardiola confirmed Leroy Sane would be out for a couple of weeks after sustaining injury in the victory, and while it is a blow in Bernardo they have another attractive option.”
In other news, the Daily Star believe City and United are to lock horns over the signature of Brazil midfielder Fred.
According to Paul Hetherington: “The Daily Star Sunday revealed three weeks ago that United and Arsenal were leading the chase for Fred, 24, with City also involved.
“Tottenham were also eyeing the situation, when the fee was believed to be £30m for a man who has played six times for the Brazil national team.
“But it now seems to have come down to a straight fight between the two title-contesting Mancunian heavyweights.
“Guardiola will not want to lose out again to Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho – but after his comments on financial resources, he must fear it could happen for the second time in this transfer window.
“But if Fred – who is seen by Guardiola as the long-term successor in the City engine room to fellow Brazilian Fernandinho – does not move this week, the two clubs will resume their battle for him in the summer.”
Finally, it’s claimed Monaco star Fabinho has issued a ‘come and get me plea’ to both Manchester clubs and Paris Saint-Germain.
So say the Mirror’s James Whaling: “He was linked with an exit from the Principality in the summer after helping the club to an unlikely French title in 2016-17.
“But, despite Monaco selling many of their best player, he stayed put at the Stade Louis II.
“However, he now admits he wants a switch to a 'bigger club' and a new challenge.”
He told Lancenet: "If a move to a new league or a club with a bigger structure and bigger expectations, I would be interested.
“My time with Monaco was good, but I feel my time here is coming to an end.”
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