While Sheikh Mansour bought the FA Cup last week, Manchester City advanced in it yesterday. Their owner purchased the trophy awarded between 1896 and 1910, and the prize for City’s triumph in 1904. Pep Guardiola’s side claimed the current silverware in 2019 and made an assured start towards regaining it.
City beat Birmingham in the 1956 FA Cup final, a game notable for their goalkeeper Bert Trautmann breaking his neck. A rematch was less painful, though Birmingham found the first half awkward in the extreme. Bernardo Silva orchestrated the demolition of Championship strugglers.
Birmingham’s sixth defeat in seven games was arguably sealed when the Portuguese struck twice in a quarter of an hour. “I was pleased when I saw the first 11 because it means Pep Guardiola respected us,” said the visiting manager Aitor Karanka. “If you follow the trajectory for our teams, we don’t drop one competition,” said the Catalan, explaining his strong selection.
It also allowed him to remove Kevin de Bruyne at half-time, with his side three goals to the good. It meant the 20-year-old Felix Nmecha could savour a second half spent operating as the No 10. “The first objective was done,” Guardiola said. “We qualified for next round with really good first half and some young players got minutes.”
For City, it amounted to a tale of two goalscorers who had become strangers to the scoresheet. One returned to it. The other was missing altogether.
Following four cameos, this was due to be Sergio Aguero’s first start since returning to fitness. However, City’s record scorer was absent altogether, quarantining. “Unfortunately he was in contact more than usual with one person who is positive [for coronavirus],” Guardiola said. “He is negative but he isolates for a few days. I don’t know how long exactly.” It is likely to mean Aguero misses Wednesday’s game against Brighton.
And, in a rather more welcome surprise for City, Silva assumed the mantle of the scorer. He had gone six months without a club goal, a time in which City proved less prolific than usual themselves. He got two in a quarter of an hour. Famine became feast.
There was something fitting that, as City paid tribute to the late Colin Bell with a giant banner to “the King” and a minute’s silence, the game was decided by a goalscoring midfielder.
First came a strike of individual excellence, Silva somehow showing the technique to convert a high half-volley after he met George Friend’s header.
His second was a classic City team goal, featuring slick passing by Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Kevin de Bruyne, whose low cross presented him with a tap-in. “We made nice goals,” said Guardiola. “I am happy for Bernardo. He made two goals and could have scored more.”
Jesus was twice agonisingly close to scoring, with Andres Prieto making a fine save and Maikel Kieftenbeld a goal-line clearance. On each occasion, De Bruyne was his supplier.
Before his departure, Foden drilled in the third from 20 yards, a crowd of Birmingham defenders unable to stop he and Mahrez combining to fine effect. “If you allow them to play, if you are jogging that behind the ball instead of being aggressive, the only thing that can happen is what happened,” said Karanka.
After De Bruyne exited, Mahrez volleyed in what he thought was a fourth, but he was just offside. Silva almost completed his treble, first with a low half-volley and then a shot at full stretch. Karanka brought on a third centre-back at the break and, minus De Bruyne, City found it harder to break their visitors down.
Another substitute almost made a different impact. Jeremie Bela twice brushed the woodwork with fierce efforts. “We finish the game in the way we should have started it,” Karanka said. But they ended it eliminated from the FA Cup. In a tale of two Cities, the Mancunian version prevailed and progressed.