Cardiff city vs Manchester United : Manchester City eased into the FA Cup fifth round with an authoritative win away against Championship side Cardiff City. A record crowd for Bluebirds games at the Cardiff City Stadium was dumbfounded into silence as Kevin de Bruyne cheekily rolled a free-kick under the jumping wall to give the visitors a lead, which Raheem Sterling doubled with a header before half-time.
Those goals bookended an excellent Bernardo Silva strike which was incorrectly disallowed for offside, which had little bearing on the result but might have been awarded had the video assistant referee (VAR) system been in use at the match.
City missed chances to extend their lead in the second half – notably Sterling being denied by a fine covering tackle by Sean Morrison – but they were seldom troubled by Cardiff, who ended the game with 10 men after Joe Bennett’s late red card.
This was a fixture which produced a memorable upset in 1994, as Nathan Blake’s spectacular curling effort gave Cardiff – then struggling in the third tier – a 1-0 win over top-flight City at Ninian Park.
But there was never the prospect of a shock result on this occasion, with runaway Premier League leaders City progressing to keep alive their hopes of completing an unprecedented quadruple of the Premier League, Champions League, League Cup and FA Cup trophies.
City overcame a spirited effort from Cardiff’s Championship rivals Bristol City in a keenly contested Carabao Cup semi-final on Tuesday night, with manager Pep Guardiola fulsome in his praise for Lee Johnson’s men over two legs.
The former Barcelona boss was also wary of the threat Cardiff would pose, watching their third-round replay win over Mansfield from the stands and remarking that his City players would need to be on their toes against a Welsh side who would play “a lot of long balls”.
There was certainly a rustic enthusiasm to Cardiff’s approach, though it proved costly as Joe Ralls’ heavy tackle on Ilkay Gundogan led to the free-kick which De Bruyne cleverly stroked under the jumping wall and into the bottom corner.
Cardiff pressed their opponents in wide positions but left spaces in midfield, which the likes of De Bruyne, Gundogan and Silva exploited ruthlessly.
After the frustration of having a goal disallowed, Silva scampered down the left wing and delivered a fabulous swinging cross to Sterling, who nodded in from close range to effectively kill the tie off before the break.
The first half ended on a sour note for City as Leroy Sane was the victim of a dreadful, studs-up foul from Bennett, who was fortunate only to receive a yellow card for the tackle which forced the German winger off at half-time.
Sane’s departure had no bearing on the result and neither did City’s inability to extend their lead despite second-half chances for Sterling and Silva.
Where was VAR when needed?
City’s progress never looked in doubt but there was a moment of real confusion when Silva’s goal was disallowed in the first half.
After smashing the ball in off the crossbar, the Portuguese jogged off to celebrate but stopped after realising referee Lee Mason was pointing to his assistant, who raised his flag having deemed Leroy Sane to be in an offside position.
Replays showed that, in fact, Sane was not offside and, although Mason discussed the matter further with his assistant, the VAR technology was not available to them for this match and the goal did not stand.
Match of the Day pundit Alan Shearer said: “Leroy Sane is not offside at all so he cant be interfering with play. For that incident VAR would be perfect as it’s fact, not an opinion. In that situation, I am all for it.”
The lack of clarity was in contrast to West Brom’s FA Cup win at Liverpool on Saturday, in which referee Craig Pawson ruled out an Albion goal, gave Liverpool a penalty and delayed awarding the visitors’ third goal because of VAR referrals.
During the game the German national team tweeted about the welfare of some of their players in Manchester City’s line-up
The difference between the teams mirrored an intriguing clash of styles in the dugout, with Cardiff manager Neil Warnock – renowned for building ruggedly effective Championship sides – taking on Guardiola, the architect of some of the most aesthetically pleasing teams in recent football history.
Warnock described City as the best team in Europe in the build-up to this match and joked that his players had been preparing for the game – and City’s inevitable dominance – by training without a ball.
It proved to be a prescient quip, as the home side had to toil for long periods, struggling to lay a glove on their stylish opponents.
Cardiff did have a handful of chances – Junior Hoilett seeing a powerfully-struck volley almost fumbled over his own line by Claudio Bravo and then fizzing another effort narrowly over – but they could not truly trouble City.
Their eagerness sometimes strayed into recklessness, such as Bennett’s aforementioned dreadful foul on Sane and a clumsy challenge on Sergio Aguero which earned Bruno Ecuele Manga a booking.
Bennett was belatedly sent off for a second yellow card after fouling Brahim Diaz in added time but there was no shame in Cardiff losing to a City side who have enjoyed similar dominance over far superior teams this season.
Man of the match – Bernardo Silva
Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese flourished in a more advanced position than usual with City playing without a recognised striker, setting up Sterling’s goal and unlucky to have an effort of his own disallowed (pictured)
No upset for Pep again – Key stats
Following Kevin De Bruyne’s opener, Manchester City now have five players to have scored at least 10 goals in all competitions this season, more than any other English league side (Aguero, Sterling, Sane, Jesus, De Bruyne).
Cardiff City have progressed just once from their last 11 FA Cup ties against sides from a higher division, last beating then Premier League side Middlesbrough, back in 2008.
As a manager, Pep Guardiola has lost just once in 22 meetings with sides from a lower division (W19 D2), with that sole defeat coming in a Copa Del Rey match against Real Betis back in January 2011.
Raheem Sterling’s goal was his first headed goal in any club competition since Boxing Day 2015, in a Premier League game against Sunderland.
Bernardo Silva has been directly involved in nine goals (3 goals, 6 assists) in his last 13 games in all competitions, this after failing to register a single goal or assist in any of the 12 games prior to this run.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola: “There are no words to describe my pride about my players and my team after so many games with no rest and because of injuries.
“A few players have played a lot of minutes, but again they were ready. I feel something special about that. Playing in the FA Cup away against Championship teams in top of league, like Cardiff are at the moment, is so complicated, we reacted like a mature team. I am so proud.
“We are in the draw and I hope we can have a team at home.”
Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock: “We knew there would be a difference in class and they didn’t disappointment me.
“If they had our chances we might have scored two or three.
“We had some good chances, but that lack of quality showed the difference in class. But I really enjoyed it, we could have easily gone under but all credit to the lads they stuck in there.
Manchester City are in action on Wednesday on what is transfer deadline day. Guardiola’s side host West Bromwich Albion in a 20:00 GMT kick-off. Cardiff return to Championship action on Saturday at Leeds United (15:00).