CRUISE CON­TROL

Pep’s City too strong for Cardiff strug­glers

Daily Mail - - Premier League - IAN LADYMAN Foot­ball Editor at the Eti­had Sta­dium

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.

GETTY IM­AGES

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

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