Manchester City remain invincible in four years of League Cup ties. The victors of the past three seasons are through to meet Burnley in round four courtesy of Phil Foden.
The 20-year-old is making an ideal start in his bid to fill the vacuum left by David Silva after a performance brimming with vision and end product. Pep Guardiola gave Ferran Torres, Zack Steffen, Liam Delap, and Adrián Bernabé full debuts in an XI and at the final whistle pointed to how depleted his squad is owing to injuries, Sergio Agüero and Aymeric Laporte being the headline absentees. This means Delap, who scored a memorable first goal, may be retained in the match-day 18 for Leicester’s visit to the Etihad on Sunday.
“The situation we have right now, we have 13 players, he’s with us and can be selected,” Guardiola said. “We’ll see if we need him. But we cannot forget that Liam is just 17 and he has a lot to improve.”
Guardiola praised the academy for its production line. “We have the process – Phil and Eric [García] Tommy [Doyle] or Liam, Cole Palmer [an unused substitute]: exceptional players. Congrats to the academy for these players and all the coaches there.”
City lined up in an unfamiliar 4-2-3-1 formation that had Delap at the tip and Rodri and Doyle as a midfield base. The opener was created by the classy Foden with a simple yet incisive ball that removed Bournemouth’s rearguard and had Delap skipping on to it, his left-foot finish nestling in the top-right corner.
Guardiola was visibly delighted and City were cruising, Doyle particularly enjoying himself at this juncture, illustrated by an immaculate Cruyff turn. Yet in a flash Bournemouth were level via a sweeping sequence that went left to right as David Brooks fed Dan Gosling. He played in Sam Surridge and his finish, low across Steffen’s right, was as emphatic as Delap’s. Here was a test for those less grizzled in the home team, with the lead having lasted four minutes.
When Doyle hit a square ball out of play with Foden easy to find it indicated how quickly fortunes had turned. But City gradually rallied. A Kyle Walker ball played to the far post was measured precisely for Delap to strike home but his connection was awry. Ten minutes before the interval Bernabé had to be replaced, the Spaniard taken off on a stretcher after apparently suffering a knee injury, with Benjamin Mendy coming on.
Walker – twice – should have created an opening from the right and a Rodri snap-shot kept Mark Travers, the visiting goalkeeper, alert but at half-time the contest was in the balance. Alive to the potential peril, Guardiola had Kevin De Bruyne and Nathan Aké warming up along the touchline as the second half began.
City pinned Bournemouth back but when Foden slid the ball left Mendy’s cross skewed off his boot into the seats behind Travers’ goal. This defence was as shaky as the first-choice one: a long ball was hit over and Surridge was again free to canter in at Steffen, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and García recovering to stifle the centre-forward and the danger. Guardiola’s use of two holding players in Doyle and Rodri instead of the usual one meant City could be too static.
This was part of what prompted the manager to remove the latter for De Bruyne on the hour, his side now having only Doyle as a deep-lying midfielder. The Belgian’s first contribution was a shoulder dip that drew a foul, but nothing came from the corner that followed De Bruyne’s own free-kick.
Guardiola’s next decision was to replace Doyle with Raheem Sterling so the manager had gone from two players in front of his defence to none. After another De Bruyne free-kick came to nothing and Torres floated in a cross Bournemouth dealt with easily, City – at last – found penetration, and the winner. Mahrez and Foden combined, the former smacking the ball off Travers’s left post before the latter hit home. Guardiola punched the air and at the close City’s winning run was16 ties. Jason Tindall was left disappointed yet proud. “They did themselves justice,” said Bournemouth’s manager.