Pep’s City too strong for Cardiff strugglers
WITH 16 minutes left here Cardiff forward Oumar Niasse cut inside and drove a low shot in to the midriff of Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson.
It was a humdrum moment and the shot was never in danger of going in — but it nevertheless prompted wild cheers from the Cardiff fans.
It was almost possible to reach out and touch the sarcasm.
Only Cardiff’s second shot of the game, it came at a time when their opponents had registered 23.
At that stage, that worked out at just about one every three and a half minutes and when you consider how often the ball is out of play or stationary during an average Premier League game that is some statistic indeed.
City’s dominance was complete from start to finish, as it so often is. They almost scored in the first minute and were still looking for goals at the death.
That Pep Guardiola’s team only registered twice was an anomaly, born of average finishing and some good goalkeeping from Cardiff’s Neil Etheridge.
The goalkeeper was at fault for Kevin de Bruyne’s opening goal in the sixth minute and was also beaten by Leroy Sane just before half-time.
That apart, Etheridge was pretty much faultless on a night when City did not so much swarm all over Cardiff but smother them gently with possession.
After Sunday’s controversial defeat at home to Chelsea, Cardiff manager Neil Warnock said he always felt his team could win that game. Here they never looked as though they believed they could compete and therefore they did not.
Cardiff emerged with dignity but absolutely nothing else as City took another step forwards in their attempt to retain their league title. If they do not keep Liverpool at bay it will be have to be some effort from the team from Merseyside. City have now won 21 of their last 22 games in all competitions, a run that stretches back to Boxing Day and includes a penalty shootout win against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final. They must lose if they are to hand over their title and with only six games left it is hard to see where that defeat will appear. The first half here was bookended by two City goals and in between they dominated the play. With seven changes to the team that beat Fulham at the weekend that allowed Guardiola (left) to hand Phil Foden a first league start. Foden grew in to the game in the second period, hitting the post and bringing two good saves from Etheridge, but by then the three points were assured. De Bruyne was the star of the show and he almost set up Gabriel Jesus after 35 seconds. Then, in the sixth minute, the Belgian drove a shot in to the net at the near post after Etheridge, expecting a cross no doubt, gave him far too much space to aim at. De Bruyne admitted afterwards that he had actually meant to cross the ball. Whatever the case, it was a terrifying start for the team from Wales.
Foden soon advanced to drive a low shot wide, Fernandinho thundered one over while Leroy Sane was unable to convert either of two good free-kick chances.
Jesus then fluffed his lines after a lightning City break from a Cardiff corner before cleverly chesting a deep Riyad Mahrez cross back to Sane who fizzed a shot across the goalkeeper and inside the far post.
After a quick start, City had lost a little of their intensity, but it returned during a second half that featured a spell around the hour mark when only Etheridge stood in the way of a landslide.
The 29- year- old saved from Mahrez twice, Foden twice and also from Sane. It was around this time that Foden struck the post.
Late in the game Cardiff actually could have scored. Niasse broke from deep and, when Kyle Walker slipped over, found himself through on goal.
The forward never really looked like scoring, however, and sure enough he didn’t, over-running the ball and allowing Ederson to save.
Warnock didn’t look too distressed afterwards and that was understandable.
His team’s big game comes a week on Saturday at Burnley and one imagines Cardiff will travel north with a little more intent for that one. Warnock said: ‘ City started like the Real Madrid of 10 years ago. They are a great team. No team in the bottom half of the table has much chance here.’
As for Guardiola, he will sweat on an injuy to left back Oleksandr Zinchenko ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Brighton.
‘It doesn’t look good,’ he said, without expanding. It was the only remaining imponderable from another straightforward night for the country’s best team.
MAN CITY (4-3-3): Ederson 6; Danilo 6.5, Stones 6, Laporte 7, Zinchenko 6 (Walker 19min, 6.5); DE BRUYNE 8.5, Fernandinho 7, Foden 8; Mahrez 7.5, Jesus 7, Sane 8.
Subs not used: Muric, Kompany, Gundogan, Silva, Bernardo Silva, Sterling. Scorers: De Bruyne 6, Sane 44. Booked: None.
Manager: Pep Guardiola 8. CARDIFF (4-2-3-1): Etheridge 7; Peltier 6, Morrison 5.5, Manga 5.5, Bennett 6; Gunnarsson 6 (Bacuna 81), Ralls 5.5; Hoilett 6, Camarasa 6 (Decordova-Reid 83), Murphy 6 (Mendez-Laing 60, 6); Niasse 5.5.
Subs not used: Murphy, Harris, Cunningham, Zohore. Booked: Bennett, Peltier, Ralls. Manager: Neil Warnock 6. Referee: Jon Moss 7. Attendance: 53,559.
Apr 14: Crystal Palace.......(a) Apr 20: Tottenham........... (h) Apr 24: Man Utd ............... (a) Apr 28: Burnley ................ (a) May 4: Leicester ..............(h) May 12: Brighton .............. (a) Friday: Southampton ...... (a) Apr 14: Chelsea .................. (h) Apr 21: Cardiff .................... (a) Apr 26: Huddersfield ........ (h) May 4: Newcastle ............. (a) May 12: Wolves .................. (h) Wide boy: De Bruyne (far right) scores from a very tight angle