Date: 11th March 2017 at 4:35pm
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Manchester City became the first of the FA Cup quarter finalists to qualify for a semi-final trip to Wembley as they swept past Middlesbrough in tidy fashion at the Riverside Stadium.

As usual, Guardiola had a mini re-shuffle re-introducing Bravo between the sticks, behind a defence of Zabaleta, Stones, Otamendi and Clichy. Ahead of them Yaya was technically the holder with Sterling and Sane out wide, Silva and De Bruyne to provide the bullets and hopefully, Aguero the goals.

As early as the first minute City laid down their marker with a swift attack almost providing a chance for Sane cutting in from the left. In the second minute however, City were far more clinical in a tidal wave of a move that found Clichy around 30 yards from goal. He played it square to Yaya who lobbed it over the defence and into the path of the overlapping Zabaleta. The Argentino’s low cross was missed by Sterling but not by Silva who drove it low into the Boro net.

The Boro defence was all over the shop and City were lining up to score with Aguero inches behind Silva and Sane looking interested a yard or so behind him. Silva hit this one first time and easily put the Blues ahead.

The Blue Mooners, many of whom have travelled through the early hours of the morning to get to this outpost of English football must have thought this was the signal for a rout, and indeed it should have been, but somehow they had to settle for a 2-0 victory when in fact it could have been double figures for City.

In the early stages Boro were chasing shadows, the ball a stranger to their feet. In the absence of the ball Leadbitter took it upon himself to kick just about everything else and he truly and deliberately clattered Aguero dangerously in the knowledge that an early booking would get him a card.

It looked as though nothing was capable of stopping the sky blue tidal wave other than the darker arts of the game, or De Bruyne’s passing which for the first 16 minutes of this match continued where it left off from the Stoke match. He didn’t find a blue shirt in all of that time and it undid a lot of his better work, especially after his hard work in retrieving the ball when lost by his colleagues.

Barragan was not as fortunate when he took his scissors to Sane, effectively giving Mike Dean no option other than to fish out his yellow card.

The game was half way through the first half before Boro realised they were actually involved and a free header by Gestede from a corner was goal-bound, well saved although fumbled by Bravo who gratefully saw Zabaleta clear it away. Indeed that was about the only thing that Gestede was to contribute as he was heading for the showers nursing a hamstring injury and about to be replaced by “the Beast”, Alvaro Negredo. As you would expect he was applauded on to the field by the 4500 City fans to a chorus of “Beast, Beast, Beast”. Sadly, Negredo is a shadow of the player he was in his first and only half-season at the Etihad when he terrified the Premier League’s best defenders and helped himself to goal after goal.

City allowed Middlesbrough to get a foothold in the game and after conceding a goal as early as they did, the hosts would have been happy to get to half time with only a 1-0 deficit. That said, Sane, De Bruyne and Yaya were all profligate in failing add to the scoreline.

Just ahead of the half Mike Dean finally caught Leadbitter chopping down De Bruyne with the panache of a combined harvester and might have found additional difficulties shortly thereafter nibbling at Yaya.

Guardiola will have really wanted City to press ahead and get more goals in order to give him the chance to withdraw Aguero, Sane and Silva with the Champions League second leg at Monaco coming to the front of his mind. But his boys refused to allow it as they inundated their hosts, but time and time again they scorned what amounted to gifts.

A flowing move between De Bruyne and Sterling set up Aguero for a text book tap-in but somehow Guzan got his foot to divert it onto the post. A minute later an airshot by Sterling prevented him from getting on the scoresheet. Shortly thereafter Silva was once again in the clear but felt the need to change feet and the chance was lost. Seconds later, Sane again failed to take advantage of another gift.

With this breathless approach to attacking football it would surely be only a matter of time before City would finally get another goal. Indeed they should easily have been six goals to the good by now. After 66 minutes, yet another driving move, and Silva drove into the space between the lines and released Sane closing in from left to right. Sane’s near post low cross saw Aguero get in front of Fabio and tap it home for 2-0.

Four minutes later Sterling saw a goal chalked off as he had strayed an almost impossible half a centimetre offside after Guzan had spilled a shot from Aguero. There were two more “nearly” chances. Sterling brought a useful save out of Guzan with Aguero and Nolito better placed and a minute later Nolito also went close after a pass from De Bruyne.

There is not much to write about Middlesbrough. They looked really off the pace here without ever letting City get too comfortable, although one suspected that City were in cruise control driven forward by the irrepressible Yaya Toure who was a true master. The FA Cup does bring the best out of Yaya. We all remember how he almost single-handedly destroyed the Stretfords in the 2011 semi-final, before bringing home City’s first trophy in 35 years by scoring in both that semi-final and final against Stoke City.

He looked like a monolith at Boro in midfield. Without breaking sweat he won the ball back when necessary and processed it quickly to Silva and De Bruyne to prompt another attack. Zaba, too, was evergreen, teaming-up almost at will with Sterling, claiming an assist for the first goal and defending his corner with ease.

I think we would all have liked to see Aguero leave the field after an hour, but Guardiola kept him on until just before the end, obviously believing he needed his top goalscorer out there to underwrite his team’s progression to Wembley.

Of the top four semis, Arsenal probably suit City best.

Dear Susan was not much looking forward to the visit of Burnley to her beloved Anfield. She believed that Liverpool had taken over City’s old mantle. You know the one – the Charlton Athletic striker hasn’t scored for 18 months (he would score against City). XYZ haven’t beaten City for 38 years (they would beat them today). Burnley still haven’t won away all season.

The City roadshow moves on to Monaco now and it really is Monte Carlo or bust for Guardiola’s men. One Stretford told me that we will lose “because we let in three at home”. He seemed to have forgotten that Monaco let in five. I’ll be amazed if City don’t get one or more on Wednesday and it should be an incredible match against the background of the Ashburton Grove Bottling Factory getting whacked 10-2 on aggregate against the mighty Bayern – then PSG turning from world-beaters to a pub team by allowing Barcelona to claw back a four-goal deficit.

Let’s hope that City go about their business in a more professional manner.

 
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