'Too light': Pep Guardiola blames the ball for Man City's 120 goalless minutes
Claudio Bravo has been mocked and derided, but he has never been Manchester City’s hero before. This was supposed to be Sergio Aguero’s big night, but it was the Chilean goalkeeper who stole the show, before his manager Pep Guardiola snatched the headlines ranting about the ball.
Bravo made three excellent saves to deny Wolverhampton Wanderers a goal in normal time as well as two in the penalty shootout as the Championship leaders threatened to do far more than just become the first side to stop Guardiola’s team from scoring this season.
The Spaniard blamed the Mitre ball - the same used in all Football League matches - for that. “It is not acceptable, the ball was unacceptable for a high-level competition,” he said.
“It is too light, there is no weight, nothing. It is not a good ball. It is impossible to score with a ball like that and I can say that because we won, I’m not making excuses. All of my players said, ‘what is that?’ I’m sorry, Carabao Cup, but that is not a serious ball for a serious competition.”
It suited Bravo, though, and it was in the penalty shootout that he stood tallest, making two excellent saves.
Few would have begrudged Wolves their win, but to see a player like Bravo, who has been criticised to the point of cruelty this year, emerge as City’s matchwinner gave a long evening a warm, happy ending.
“Without Claudio we would not be in the next round,” said Guardiola. “I am so, so happy for him because it has not always been easy. He made a lot of important saves for us.”
As for Aguero, this was supposed to be his moment, but while the Argentinian may have scored the goal that won City their first league title in 45 years, that dramatic injury time winner against Queens Park Rangers in 2012, when it came to scoring the goal that would break Eric Brook’s record, Aguero fluffed his lines, nine chances coming and going without the net bulging until he scored the winning penalty.
Penalties in shootouts, though, do not count. He will have to wait to become City’s leading goalscorer, at least until he faces West Bromwich Albion next weekend.
Aguero played like a man with a record to break, his desperation to get things over with evident from the moment he tried his luck from outside the area with a shot that was comfortably saved by Will Norris.
A few minutes later and the Etihad prepared to rise in adulation of their hero. Raheem Sterling slipped a low ball through a crowded area to find Aguero, unmarked, running in to strike a shot from the penalty spot. A collective inhale of breath and then, a groan. Aguero’s side-footed finish was too nonchalant and he dragged it wide.
It was to sum up his evening. He missed a similar chance in the second half and every time he got a sight of goal his normally clinical finish deserted him. Pressure does strange things to players, even those as experienced as Aguero.
Had Wolves been more precise in front of goal, it would have been them in the quarter-final. Sadly, it was their homegrown striker, Bright Enobakhare who missed three one on one chances against Bravo. He was not the only one. Wolves are a team to be admired.