Serbian sniper fire and a Bosnian hit man combined to deliver a Balkan battering to send Manchester City through to their third ‘League Cup’ semi-final in the past five years.
The Foxes of Leicester City found themselves on the run from Manuel Pellegrini’s pack of hunting hounds who, with a best in class ‘Crufts-like’ performance, dispatched the Championship contenders in a one-sided Quarter Final at the King Power Stadium.
Even with eight changes from the 6-3 win over Arsenal, Manchester simply oozed flair and fluency as they built a 3-0 lead before easing off and cantering to a 3-1 victory.
The City boss surprised many by fielding prominent players such as Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Pablo Zabaleta from the start, albeit the latter limped off with a hamstring pull troubling the tenacious Argentine national team captain.
Zabaleta’s injury, coming so quickly after the news that fellow countryman Sergio Aguero could be missing from City’s line-up for up to two months, means Pellegrini has real injury concerns, but City were alright on the night with a slick display and convincing win.
Sharpshooting City have now scored an incredible 75 goals this season and it’s not even Christmas!
Aleksander Kolarov adjusted his rangefinder before powering in goal number 73 in the eighth minute. There are few players in world football with a sweeter left foot than ‘AK47’ when it comes to striking a dead ball.
Kolarov injected plenty of life into his 30 yard strike as it flew past former City keeper Kasper Schmeichel to get the party started. It was Kolarov’s second goal inside a week following his penalty against Bayern Munich, as City pretty much carried on where they’d left off against the Bundesliga and Premier League leaders.
Pellegrini is now regularly achieving his stated objective of ‘Never mind the players – look at how we play’ as City continued with an expansive, one-touch, attacking format which leaves opponents leaden-footed.
David Silva, Jesus Navas and James Milner were among the finest exponents of the ‘give-and-go’ approach, with even the much maligned Javi Garcia and Edin Dzeko playing a full part.
Dzeko played several deft passes in some classy City build ups and, once again massaged his goals-to-games ratio with two well taken opportunities which even raised a grin and a clenched fist salute from the oft grim-faced forward.
Great emphasis has been attached to Dzeko being a ‘confidence’ player, so who knows, with Sergio sidelined and goals flowing, could City be about to witness a resurgent Edin in the vital coming matches?
Certainly not shot shy on the night, the familiar ‘EDIN DZEK-OOO-OOOOO’ strains rang out in the 41st minute from the heavy away support, in a nigh on capacity crowd.
He’d already tested Schmeichel on two occasions before heading home a well flighted assist from the ever lively Milner.
It was the same combination that put the game out of Leicester’s sight eight minutes into the second half. Milner took possession from a Kolarov throw-in and pulled a simple pass back from the by-line, enabling Dzeko to send a decisive side foot shot into Schmeichel’s net.
Milner himself has suddenly hit a purple patch in the last three games, comprising two starts and a sub’s appearance. The winner against Bayern, two penalties won and three assists is a superb return for the likeable Yorkshireman, revered for his work rate, but not always accorded the acclaim deserving of his efforts.
With no Yaya or Fernandinho in midfield, Jack Rodwell was given a full 90-minutes and he didn’t disappoint. Similarly Silva, absolutely did not disappoint, but was wisely substituted after 70 minutes.
Silva is producing his finest football since 2011 and is a huge differentiator for City in every game. Likewise, Samir Nasri is back to the peak of his powers, thankfully now in City colours and not the red and white of Arsenal.
What stood out when the Frenchman replaced the Spaniard was the huge beaming smiles exchanged between the two players. Pellegrini has a whole load of ‘happy campers’ at the Etihad and, as much as I liked and supported ‘Bobby Manc’, the upturn in morale is palpable.
It is reflected in the brand of football now being played and commensurate with the recognition – some of it begrudgingly – being bestowed on this City side.
Even players who could have a reason to feel ‘unhappy’ such as Joe Hart and Joleon Lescott, came in and did their jobs in a thoroughly professional fashion.
The England keeper had very little opportunity to shine and stake his claim for a return to PL first team action against Fulham, such was City’s dominance.
When he was beaten by Lloyd Dyer’s 77th minute close range shot, it owed everything to a wicked deflection off Vincent Kompany.
It always feels wrong to have to write caveats for any goals conceded by Hart since he lost his place to Costel Pantilimon, but somehow necessary to exonerate him of any blame.
Pants hasn’t committed any high profile ‘howlers’ during his seven game run in the PL, but I reiterate once again, Hart IS the better keeper, and maybe Manuel should place his trust in him one more time, before pursuing any long term replacement.
By all means recruit top quality competition – Iker Casillas is once again being mentioned – but how the hell can City hope to retain two top international keepers, keen to serve both club and country?
Who knows who will be City’s keeper when the two-legged Capital One Cup semi-final dawns in January, but no matter who it is you can be sure Pellegrini wants clean sheets and a Wembley final appearance – neigh – Wembley win.
It was no way Jose last night as Sunderland dimmed Chelsea’s lights in their QF, whereas tonight presents opportunities for Manure, Mark Hughes’ Stoke, an AVP45-less Spurs and West Ham to join City in the semis.
Whoever draws the Sky Blues will be in for a stiff task.
By David Walker