Manchester City scored a stoppage-time winner to beat Bristol City in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final. The visitors have been the feel-good story of the competition, as they have knocked out Premier League opposition in four successive rounds. In the previous round, they knocked out Manchester United and they came to the Etihad Stadium with no fear. They pressed well and gave the hosts a fierce contest, which can’t be said of many teams this season.
Although the difference in quality was reflected in the final result thanks to a late Sergio Aguero winner, the tie is delicately poised and Bristol City will be confident that they can spring a shock result at home. Manchester City found it difficult tonight and the second leg is already shaping up to be a must-see contest, as both sides have a great chance of reaching the final. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium:
John Stones is making costly errors
Manchester City have had a near-perfect season up to now and this win over Bristol City has put them in pole position to make the final next month. The victory may not have been as comfortable as many were expecting, but they got the job done and their winning mentality is difficult for opposition teams to overcome. There always seems an inevitability that they will find a way to win.
However, Pep Guardiola will be concerned at the lack of concentration shown by John Stones in recent matches. The centre-back has developed a lot since making the move to Manchester City and was heavily praised during the first half of the season for his consistency at the back. Since his return from injury, he hasn’t been as reliable and he has now made an error that has led to a goal in successive matches.
This was a hallmark of Stones’ game during his time at Everton and early City career, but it had improved during the opening few months of the season. Guardiola needs to address it quickly before it becomes ingrained in his game once again. The challenge to concede the penalty on Tuesday was lazy and if he makes a similar error in a bigger game, it could be even more costly.
Bristol City have a great team spirit
After a poor end to last season when they were dragged into relegation trouble in the Championship, few people expected Bristol City to be challenging this campaign. Lee Johnson was among the favourites to be the first manager to lose his job and few supporters had complete faith in him when the first ball was kicked.
The young manager showed early on that he had learned from the mistakes that he had made last season and the decision to keep faith in him has been rewarded. They play an entertaining brand of attacking football and their goal gifs on Twitter have become viral sensations. As the season has progressed, the bond between the squad and supporters has become stronger.
Most Championship teams would have gone to the Etihad Stadium and looked to play a defensive style to keep the score down. Bristol City didn’t do that. They played brave, attacking football and were good value for their one-goal lead at half-time. Although they lost the match, they came out of the game with a lot of credit and remain in the tie for the second leg.
Manchester City remain in the hunt for the quadruple
The quadruple has often been a topic of speculation for the top teams in England. Jose Mourinho talked about it as a target during his first spell at Chelsea and others have since, but no team have managed to do it. It is difficult to win every trophy in England due to the competitiveness of the division. There is a top six and that isn’t the case in any other top league, which makes it near impossible for one club to win everything.
That said, this Manchester City team is special. They have dropped points on only two occasions in the Premier League and they remain in all three cup competitions. It may not have been a great display on Tuesday, but Pep Guardiola picked a strong team and set out his intentions to respect the Championship team. He knew it wouldn’t easy, despite playing a lower division side and it proved to be the case.
The quadruple remains a long shot. It would be an extraordinary achievement and mark them as one of the greatest teams in recent history. Considering this is their first season of high achievement, that underlines how good they have been. It usually takes a period of sustained success to enter those discussions, but City are already in the argument. Guardiola was brought in to take the club on that extra step to be one of the best in Europe. The Carabao Cup may not be the most respected competition, but it would provide the manager with his first trophy in England. That is an important first step.
Three ambitious signings Bristol City should make this January
One month ago Bristol City looked to be in a much stronger position than they are now. Three league defeats in a row to runaway leaders Wolves, Aston Villa and Norwich City put a series of large dents in Lee Johnson’s automatic promotion hopes.
All is not lost for the side from the West Country, however, with a hard earned point away at Derby County stopping the rot, so to speak. The fact remains, though, that City have a number of injuries to key players.
The Robins were boosted by the return of Famara Diedhiou on Friday night versus The Rams, but took two steps back with one step forward, as Frank Fielding and Nathan Baker left the field of play at half-time, with respective groin and ankle injuries.
An already thread bare squad suddenly might have got even lighter.
With a gruelling 90 minutes (at very least), versus arguably the best side in Europe, to occupy Bristol City on Tuesday, before the brutal rhythm of the Championship season snares them again on Saturday with a home tie against Ian Holloway’s QPR, the club really do need some reinforcements.
Ryan Kent (loan) and Liam Walsh (permanent) have been brought in already and, while inexperienced, their youthful energy, bravery and intuition going forward will certainly help the overall team effort.
In some respects, literally *any* players will do – just more bodies to soak up some critical minutes from the first XI regulars.
That said, if City are going to mount a serious promotion/top six push they require more than just *any* signings, the BS3 outfit require players who will really improve and strengthen key positions – taking the workload off of the current players who have (on average) played 300 minutes more than their Championship opponents in 2018 alone.
Here are three players that would strengthen Bristol City as we get stuck into the second half of the 2017/2018 Championship season…
Alfredo Morelos – Rangers
Rangers’ Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos is the most recent name to be linked with a move to Bristol City, although the latest from the Bristol Post suggest these reports were wide of the mark.
The 21-year-old boasts a very impressive goal scoring track record, roughly once every two games, across his time playing top flight football in Colombia, Lithuania and Scotland.
Rangers are unlikely to want to sell one of their prized assets, but every player has his price.
Bristol City broke their transfer record this summer on Famara Diedhiou for a fee confirmed as £5.3 million.
Steve Lansdown could well break this record again within a season if he feels, or is convinced by the scouting network, that Morelos could be the difference between promotion and mid-table mediocrity.
At 21, he certainly has room to improve and could be a useful investment.
Sam Byram – West Ham
Bristol City’s first choice right-back, Eros Pisano, is not returning to training for a few more weeks and, with Zak Vyner now joined Plymouth on loan, the club need a right-sided full-back to take some pressure off of club captain Bailey Wright.
Sam Byram is certainly at the ambitious end of the spectrum, but as the old adage goes, if you don’t buy a ticket, you don’t win the raffle.
The youngster has not had as much game time as he would have liked at West Ham and with former Bristol City player David Moyes in the east London hot seat, coupled with City’s recent track record with Premier League loanees, this may not be as implausible a loan deal as some naysayers may suggest.
Lukas Nmecha – Manchester City
With Bristol City being linked, by the Daily Mail, with Manchester City potential loanees after Pep Guardiola’s alleged satisfaction with Lee Johnson’s style of football, a few Citizen academy players have been linked with a temporary loan south.
Lukas Nmecha is one of those names. The German born forward has represented England at age groups from Under-16 to Under-19 with a fair degree of success.
The 19-year-old, who stands at six foot tall, as a striker, does not represent a position of real need for Lee Johnson. However, one could argue that City are so desperate for players that anyone who could help out with 20 minutes here and there is useful.
Especially as the likes of Matty Taylor and Gustav Engvall have not proved themselves at this level, and Milan Djuric remains sidelined for the time being.
Why Bristol City’s next three fixtures could be season defining
Bristol City have had a fantastic 2017/18 season so far, of that there can be little doubt.
Currently sitting fourth in the league, in the semi-finals of the League Cup, City have not only replaced the goals of Tammy Abraham “in-house”, they have gone viral with goal scoring gifs, and did this all playing for months with six long term injuries to first team players.
This is less a matter of months after staving off relegation and a toxic atmosphere at Ashton Gate as Lee Johnson lost eight Championship fixtures on the spin and ‘Johnson Out’ bedsheets were plastered over major highways in south Bristol.
For Bristol City to now be playing brave attacking football, beating four Premier League sides (including Manchester United) and going toe-to-toe with Manchester City at the Etihad, spearheaded by local academy midfield graduate turned striker Bobby Reid, Robins fans can have little complaints. Or so you would think.
City have somewhat under the radar lost five games on the bounce, most recently a 0-1 home versus against Norwich City (this rather cheeky tweet from the Canaries’ media team did not go unnoticed).
— Norwich City FC (@NorwichCityFC) January 13, 2018
Admittedly two of the five aforementioned defeats were in cup competitions – one a 2-1 last minute loss courtesy of Sergio Aguero, the other a 3-0 reverse at Vicarage Road with a second string XI put out by Lee Johnson.
That said, late defeats against Wolves, Norwich and a thumping at Aston Villa, won’t exactly be good for morale. Media plaudits for performances in the League Cup will only go so far, and City fans will be wanting owner Steve Lansdown to seriously invest this January to get the promotion push back on track.
Liam Walsh and Ryan Kent have been added so far, and they will inject youthful energy – much needed for this paper thin squad. Alone these two exciting prospects will not be enough.
The return of the likes of record signing Famara Diedhiou, Eros Pisano, Callum O’Dowda and Milan Djuric will also help squad depth and stop the current norm for City of players playing out of position.
However, one or two marque signings are required if Lee Johnson is to stand any chance of an automatic promotion berth. After this run of losses, the next three fixtures could be season defining for Bristol City, and they are as follows:
The toughest of the three fixtures is a Friday night trip under the lights at Pride Park. This County side is a different beast altogether than the one put to the sword 4-1 at Ashton Gate in September.
Gary Rowett is showing his credentials as one of the most talented young English managers in the game, and has guided The Rams up to second in the division, with the Whites unbeaten in the Championship since November 28th.
Impressive stuff from Derby, and it is fair to say an out of sorts Bristol City will have their work cut out. If City were to win, not only would it send a statement to the rest of league but it would also get the automatic promotion push well back on track – a massive six pointer to look forward to in the coming days.
Whenever Ian Holloway visits Ashton Gate, it is an occasion. The City faithful will never forget his Gas roots – playing, captaining and managing Bristol Rovers as well as an infamous speech from the top of a bus when Rovers pipped City to the third division title in 1990.
Holloway brings a QPR side to Ashton Gate with some familiar faces in the form of Luke Freeman and Matt Smith. The London oufit started the season poorly but are beginning to turn things around. That said, if City are serious about their promotion aspirations this needs to be three points won.
This will be the first game after the second leg home tie versus Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Let’s hope that win, lose or draw, City do not suffer a hangover going back in the brutal rhythm of the Championship.
More familiar faces for City fans with Mark Little and Aaron Wilbraham now plying their trade for Bolton Wanderers, and another three points should be the target, one feels.
Bolton, like QPR, have had a mini resurgence in recent weeks but, despite this being an away fixture, Lee Johnson will need a win to keep up the pressure on the other promotion hopefuls (especially if he loses the six pointer versus Derby).
By the time this game rolls around the Robins may have a couple of new signings, and maybe even a few of the long term injuries back in the fold.
Exclusive: Bristol City’s Bobby Reid on his new role, Lee Johnson and Premier League aspirations
The Championship is one of the tightest and most unpredictable leagues in Europe. It is becoming harder and harder for relegated Premier League clubs to bounce back at the first attempt, due to the competitiveness of the division.
The difficulty posed by the second tier is symbolised by the incredible start of Bristol City. The Robins have not been in the top flight since it was rebranded in 1992 and last season’s finish of 17th suggested they were a long way from achieving promotion.
However, they have started the new season in great form and are currently in fourth position, five points clear of seventh. They are the joint-third highest scorers in the division and one of the best teams for neutrals to watch.
There were fears that they would struggle in front of goal after the loss of successful loanee Tammy Abraham, but an academy graduate has stepped up to fill the void.
Bobby Reid has been one of the breakout stars of the Football League this season and established himself as the leader of the Bristol City attack. He has started all 16 of the club’s league matches and currently has nine goals, which ranks him second in the race for the division’s golden boot accolade.
It has taken the forward time to become a key player for the Robins and when speaking to The Boot Room, he admits that the loan spells away from the club helped him reach the level he is at now.
“The Oldham loan was great for me. I was far away from home so had to stay up there. It was obviously under the gaffer’s management (Lee Johnson) and Korey (Smith) was there as well. I really enjoyed it.
“Then the Plymouth loan was brilliant; playing the whole season in the league and we were unfortunate not to go up, losing in the play-offs. I’d recommend it to any young player – you need to play games and play men’s football, it’s just so different to under-23 football.”
It is a common narrative in the media to criticise the state of youth and reserve football, with loans to a team lower down the football pyramid becoming the best option for young players.
These comments from Reid are particularly pertinent now after the success of the English age groups in 2017. There have been calls for the successful Young Lions to be given a chance in the Premier League, but the success of the Bristol City man suggests they will have more luck going out on loan.
Reid’s relationship with current Robins manager Lee Johnson, the seeds of which were sewn during his last few weeks at Oldham Athletic in the 2012/13 season, has played a huge role in his development, to date.
He played seven games in League One for the Latics, with Johnson clearly impressed with his somewhat raw talent. Naturally, this aided Reid when the 36-year-old coach eventually made the switch to Ashton Gate.
The confidence that his manager has in him has played a big role in his improvement during the last 12 months, as the player himself recognises:
“He’s told me to be patient in the past. He always said he believes in me and now it’s showing. He’s kept that faith in me and I want to repay him for that with my performances on the pitch. As I said, he signed me on loan at Oldham years ago and has always said that he likes me as a footballer.”
Reid only played two matches during the successful promotion campaign in 2014-15 as Bristol City returned to the Championship after a two-year spell in League One. The 24-year-old spent the majority of that season on loan at Plymouth Argyle, but showed signs of maturity. This earned him a place in the Robins’ squad for the following season.
Although he has done okay during the last two seasons, scoring five goals and contributing four assists, there was a belief that he could achieve more. He featured in 58 Championship matches, but 24 of those were from the bench.
Nonetheless, this term, the exit of Abraham has allowed Reid to play in a more advanced role as a centre forward, and he believes that he where is long-term future lies:
“I’m more comfortable in the striker role and it’s allowed me to shine and play regularly. I’ve worked hard over the summer to make sure I was right and I’m reaping the benefits now. I do see it as my long-term position now. Having playing in midfield previously in my career, I feel it allows me to do a bit of everything to cause defenders confusion.”
The most noticeable impact of the move has been the increased confidence of Reid. He now looks like a player that believes he is one of the best in the division and that is resulting in goals and assists.
Currently, he is averaging 2.25 shots and 1.61 chances created per ninety minutes. That doesn’t represent a huge rise from last season, during which he averaged 3.19 shots and 1.22 chances created. In fact, he is now averaging fewer shots on goal per ninety minutes, but his shot accuracy has risen from 39% to 63%.
In addition to his position change, the improved form of the team will have helped improve the production of Reid, as he is now playing in a side that believes they can compete at the top of the division. Results have improved this season, but the 24-year-old isn’t surprised by City’s position in the league table:
“I wouldn’t say I’ve been surprised by anything. We’re staying in games longer and are getting draws or wins late in games, where maybe in the past we would have lost games. It’s going really well but no one is getting carried away.”
Last season, the Robins fell into a relegation battle after a bright start, but they were seen as a good team, especially in attack. However, negative momentum built, especially at the beginning of the calendar year, and they found it difficult to arrest the slide.
There were calls for Johnson to lose his job on social media, but those inside the club could see how close they were to achieving success and they are now being rewarded for that faith.
Reid’s comments above show that the squad remained with the manager, but more importantly, they aren’t getting carried away with their early success. The last few years of progression have been special for the 24-year-old, considering he came through the club’s academy.
“It’s special for the likes of myself and Joe (Bryan), coming through the youth system to play for your local club, and more recently Lloyd Kelly and Zak Vyner have also broken through. We want to help the club reach the Premier League; that’s our aim and the club’s aim.”
For a club like Bristol City in the Championship, it is important to bring players through to the first-team as they don’t have the finances of those clubs coming down from the Premier League. They need to find other ways to compete and the emergence of Reid as a leading player in the division shows that they are managing to do just that.
In addition to making headlines on the pitch, Bristol City have been the talk of social media for their goal GIFs on Twitter, posted every time a goal is scored. They have brought attention to the team and are an indicator of the excellent team spirit at the club.
“My favourite so far has been Flinty’s. He had the suit jacket one and then the DJ spinning plates. There are some other great ones yet to be seen; Marlon Pack’s is great so let’s hope he scores soon. If it’s a high-scoring game for us, it’s great to see all the GIFs getting coverage.”
— Bristol City FC (@bcfctweets) September 30, 2017
The 24-year-old had an eye-catching one after his goal against Derby County in September, when he was videoed with a fire extinguisher, alluding to his hot streak on the pitch.
Few would have predicted Reid’s performances this season. He was hardly spoken about as a realistic option to replace Abraham, but he has done just that and he will have ambitions of passing the 20-goal mark like his predecessor did when leading the line at Ashton Gate.
Unsurprisingly, Reid’s form has caused media speculation regarding his future with his contract set to expire next summer. Bristol City have an option of another 12 months, but supporters will be hoping that he remains at Ashton Gate for longer than that.
When asked about his personal aims for the future, he simply said:
“Just to keep on playing and scoring for Bristol City. Who knows where this season could take us.”
As a player that has come through the ranks and been on the recent journey with Bristol City, it would be great for him to win another promotion with the club and do so as an important part of the team this time.
There is a long way to go and there are no guarantees that the Robins will finish in the top-six, but with Reid, they have one of the best players in the division. They have a great chance of becoming the 50th club to play in the Premier League.
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