Iheanacho replaces Aguero as City looked to see out the remaining minutes of their FA Cup tie with Huddersfield
For nine minutes, it was like a starburst. The passing, the movement, the pace. Everything was in sync, an explosion of attacking football to stir the soul.
Eight days on from that basketball shootout with Monaco in the Champions League, here were Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City showing how potent they can be when everything clicks together. In 540 seconds, they went from potential victims of a shock to FA quarter-finalists.
But… Unfortunately for Guardiola the eulogy for the jet-heeled attacking of his wingmen Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling must carry a caveat. He won’t like it but the locals know it and the example came in the 43rd minute.
Harry Bunn struck early on in the first half to put Huddersfield into the lead against Manchester City in the FA Cup
City’s Leroy Sane didn’t waste much time in levelling the tie and pulled a goal back after half an hour at the Etihad
Striker Sergio Aguero successfully converted from the penalty spot to take the lead for the Premier League side
Pablo Zabaleta put City in a comfortable position shortly before half-time when he got his side’s third of the evening
Aguero got his second of the night with 17 minutes left to play in the fifth-round replay against the Championship side
Kelechi Iheanacho put the ball into the corner of Joel Coleman’s net as the match ticked into second half stoppage time
Manchester City (4-3-3): Bravo 5; Zabaleta 7, Stones 6.5, Otamendi 6, Clichy 7; Garcia 7.5, De Bruyne 7 (Delph 75, 6), Fernandinho 6.5; Sterling 7, Aguero 8 (Iheanacho 79), Sane 7.5 (Navas 81)
Subs not used: Caballero, Sagna, Fernando, Silva
Manager: Pep Guardiola 7
Goals: Sane 30, Aguero 35 pen, 73, Zabaleta 38, Iheanacho 90+1
Huddersfield (4-2-3-1): Coleman 5.5; Cranie 6, Hudson 5.5, Stankovic 4, Holmes-Dennis 6; Whitehead 5, Billing 7.5 (Hogg 67, 6); Lolley 6 (Smith 61, 6), Payne 6, Bunn 7 (Van La Parra 54, 7); Quaner 6.5
Subs not used: Ward, Kachunga, Wells, Hefele
Manager: David Wagner 6
Goal: Bunn 7
Booked: Hudson, Stankovic
Ref: Paul Tierney 4.5
It all stemmed when a ball bobbled into City’s penalty area and Claudio Bravo slid out for what appeared to be a routine drill. Instead, he allowed the ball to squirm from his grasp, slither under his body and only gather it at the second attempt. It was greeted by ironic cheers from the home crowd.
City have some of the finest attacking talents in Europe at his disposal but here, against Huddersfield of the Championship, was proof that the back of this house is not totally secure. Only time will tell how costly it will prove at the business end of this campaign.
Guardiola has a habit of reaching for hyperbole during press conferences and one such example came in the cramped confines of Huddersfield’s press room after this first squabble between these sides had ended without a goal being scored.
‘Amazing,’ he gushed about Bravo’s performance. ‘The first save was brilliant.’ It was the only time he smiled during a fractious five minutes, leaping to the defence of a man who has been under siege since he arrived in the Premier League.
His opening action here, however, was anything but impressive. Someone referred to him on social media as being a ‘hologram’ for the way Harry Bunn’s firm to skid straight through his guard and straight into his net, the third time in his last four starts he has been beaten by the first shot.
As Bunn – who spent 13 years at City as an Academy player – wheeled away screeching in delight, his chance created by Joe Lolley’s 60-yard surge, Guardiola bit on his lip and looked concerned. Once again the man in whom he has invested so much had let him down.
It could have had ruinous consequences. Huddersfield have been one of the stories of the season in any of the four divisions and their confidence, imbued by their impressive manager David Wagner, is soaring. They made nine changes but they had crossed the Pennines to wreak havoc.
The FA Cup fifth round replay was only seven minutes old when Bunn rifled his shot underneath goalkeeper Claudio Bravo
Bunn celebrates with Huddersfield team-mate Tareiq Holmes-Dennis as the City supporters remain seated in the background
But Huddersfield’s lead wouldn’t last as 23 minutes later Sane met a Raheem Sterling cross and fired home
The young winger managed to beat goalkeeper Joel Coleman who could do nothing to stop him
The problem they faced, though, was a City team with an appetite for destruction. No matter what criticism you level at their defence, you cannot help but have admiration for the way they attack. Huddersfield weren’t poor, by any means, they just couldn’t hold back the light blue tide.
Having won a trophy in each of his seven years as a manager, the FA Cup is not an opportunity Guardiola will give up lightly and the strength of this team showed his intent, with Kevin De Bruyne, Sane, Sterling and Aguero ripping into Huddersfield whenever the chance arose.
In the space of 22 minutes, when the ball pinged around at dazzling speeds, the hosts created seven chances, had two loud appeals for a penalty and scored three times to turn what started off as a contest into a procession.
Yes, they were guilty of over-elaboration at times, like when De Bruyne tapped danced into the area in the 18th minute but chose to pass rather than shoot, but when it all clicked the goals began to flow, the equaliser arriving on the half-hour when Sane arrived to thump in Sterling’s centre.
Soon the lead was doubled. Guardiola had raged about penalties that had not been awarded but referee Paul Tierney had no hesitation pointing to the spot when Nicolas Otamendi was sent sprawling by Jon Stankovic and Aguero did the rest, sending Joel Coleman the wrong way.
City were awarded a penalty five minutes after Sane scored and Aguero made no mistake to put his side into the lead
The Argentine wheels away with Sane after putting City ahead for the first time on Wednesday night
Full back Zabaleta made it a first half to forget for Huddersfield’s defence when he extended City’s lead before half-time
The experienced defender salutes the City faithful after scoring to make Guardiola’s comfortable against Huddersfield
The difference in the Aguero on show to the one that barely raised a gallop at the John Smith’s Stadium was night and day. Here he was, bursting with intent, scuttling into space, coming short to receive a pass or pointing to where he wanted it delivered. He was, simply, in the mood.
And he played a considerable role in settled the tie in the 39th minute. Aguero had struck the woodwork two minutes earlier and he was frustrated again when a thumping shot cannoned into Coleman but he had the speed of thought to turn the rebound back to Zabaleta, who did the rest.
From that point, they were in no danger. There was one slight cause for alarm when Joe Lolley headed a chance over in the 53rd minute but, other than that, City were in total control and a realistic gloss was applied to the score when Aguero converted his second before Kelechi Iheanacho, on as a late substitute, tapped in the fifth.
Job done, then. The project as a whole, though, still needs some work.
Aguero cleverly clips the ball past Coleman to get his second of the evening and confirm City’s place in the last eight