Sunday 20 October 2019

Guardiola sends for the cavalry to keep quadruple dream alive

Swansea City 2 Manchester City 3

Swansea players feel the pain after Sergio Aguero equalises from the penalty spot. Photo: Reuters
Swansea players feel the pain after Sergio Aguero equalises from the penalty spot. Photo: Reuters

Ben Fisher

Manchester City clambered back from two goals down to take their place in the FA Cup semi-finals after Sergio Agüero came off the bench to snatch the winner. For so long Pep Guardiola's grand plans of a quadruple again appeared in tatters until his side produced a stirring comeback, scoring three times in the final 21 minutes.

In the same way that Wigan upstaged City in the fifth round last season, first-half goals by Matt Grimes and Bersant Celina, who spent six years on the books at the Etihad, had Swansea daring to dream, just as their manager, Graham Potter, had beckoned them to do. "Can we play you every week?" was the joyous chant from home supporters, until Guardiola asked his A-team to step off the bench and dig the Premier League champions out of a hole.

Manchester City's Bernardo Silva jostles with Swansea City's Daniel James. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City's Bernardo Silva jostles with Swansea City's Daniel James. Photo: Reuters

It is a rare sight, City scrambling on the ropes, but Swansea had put them in a severe spot of bother by half-time, as they headed down the tunnel trailing by two goals against a mid-table Championship side without their talisman, Oli McBurnie. Not that they missed him. Guardiola made four changes from the team who walloped Schalke 7-0 in midweek and with Raheem Sterling and Agüero among those given a breather, there was an opportunity for Riyad Mahrez to impress.

Considering they were playing a team who had scored 16 goals in three matches en route to reaching this stage, Swansea were initially lenient in defence, allowing City to canter upfield, particularly from wide areas. After skating beyond his marker Connor Roberts, Leroy Sané hammered an early shot at goal from an acute angle, before Mahrez, arriving unmarked from the opposite flank, dropped a header inches wide of Kristoffer Nordfeldt's goal. When City surged forward, an eerie nervousness filled Swansea's 18-yard box, as when Bernardo Silva shaped to take aim after Sané again scampered down the left.

But in the same way that Swansea looked flustered, Fabian Delph hit the panic button when Roberts collected a crossfield ball, giving Andre Marriner no choice but to point to the spot. Celina, who badly fluffed his lines from 12 yards at West Brom last Wednesday when his attempted Panenka ended up as viral misery, passed over penalty duty to Grimes, who made no mistake from the spot. City briefly rallied, with Sané almost latching on to a Gabriel Jesus cross, but Potter's side had other ideas.

Nordfeldt kickstarted a slick Swansea move, the kind of bewitching break forward that Guardiola would have been proud of, as the electric Dan James seized the baton on halfway. James's pace proved troublesome, even for Kyle Walker - no slouch himself - and the winger drifted inside, picking out Wayne Routledge, who slipped the ball into the path of Celina.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with the match ball. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with the match ball. Photo: Reuters

Before Ederson even had a chance to compose himself, the ball was arcing into the top corner of his goal, Celina, first time, exquisitely wrapping his right foot around the ball before wheeling away. Guardiola's side were in unfamiliar territory and rattled, summed up by Aymeric Laporte talking himself into a booking after the half-time whistle blew after clashing with Routledge.

In filthy conditions, Guardiola, his hands rooted in his pockets, cut a frustrated figure as his team repeatedly rushed forward without making Swansea pay. It was not for the want of trying, with Roberts hacking off the line to deny David Silva and standing firm as Sané surged inside after reaching the byline. Then Mike van der Hoorn and Cameron Carter-Vickers put their bodies on the line as Swansea came under siege, as the ball ricocheted its way round the box.

Guardiola had resisted the temptation to make changes at the interval but did introduce Sterling and Oleksandr Zinchenko before the hour mark. Then came Agüero.

Yet when Swansea poured forward, an unusually frail City back line again wilted. Alongside James in the Swansea attacking triumvirate, Nathan Dyer and Routledge rolled back the years to keep City guessing. James was particularly relentless, storming beyond Nicolás Otamendi, only for Laporte to claw the ball away as City's last man, before later causing Ederson to rush off his line to avert danger.

Swansea City's Matt Grimes celebrates scoring their first goal with George Byers and Nathan Dyer. Photo: Reuters
Swansea City's Matt Grimes celebrates scoring their first goal with George Byers and Nathan Dyer. Photo: Reuters

With Guardiola hopping down the touchline, his players attempted to up the ante.

The arrivals of Sterling and Agüero worsened the anxiety rippling through the Swansea defence and when Roberts failed to clear Walker's cross, the ball fell kindly for Bernardo Silva to emulate Celina's earlier effort, bending his shot into the top corner.

Sterling should have earned parity but spooned over before City again swarmed forward. This time, the damage was lasting, as Cameron Carter-Vickers upended Sterling in the box, allowing Agüero to step forward from the penalty spot.

Agüero's effort slammed the post and cannoned in off the backside of Nordfeldt, but City were level.

Swansea City's Matt Grimes scores their first goal from the penalty spot. Photo: Reuters
Swansea City's Matt Grimes scores their first goal from the penalty spot. Photo: Reuters

Nordfeldt made a sublime double save to deny Agüero and seemingly take the game to extra time, only for the striker to promptly nod in Bernardo Silva's cross with two minutes of normal time remaining and break Swansea hearts.

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