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.