Manchester City survived a scare from Swansea City in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, as they came back from a 2-0 deficit to eventually win 3-2.
Goals from Matt Grimes and Bersant Celina before the half-hour mark put Pep Guardiola in a tight spot and forced him to bring on Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero in the second half.
It required a sensational effort from Bernardo Silva, an own-goal forced by an undeserved penalty and a late-winner by Sergio Aguero from an offside position to knock out the valiant Swans.
Despite being eliminated, the hosts set a blueprint for how take down City. We examine some of the takeaways.
As cliche as it sounds, to beat City, you first need to believe that you can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Swansea were matching City’s intensity throughout the game and were not afraid to press and commit men forward in the first half.
The hosts were resonating with the pace of City’s game and relentless in their pursuit of a spot in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
They were the better side in all aspects of the game and could have ended City’s dreams of securing a quadruple of trophies if VAR was in use.
FT | Heartbreaking... Our young #Swans matched one of the best teams in the world today and were so close to a dream #FACup result.— Swansea City AFC (@SwansOfficial) March 16, 2019
All the best to @ManCity in the semi-final. 👏
💻 Match Centre LIVE! 👉 https://t.co/dqt57XKnJl
⚪️ 2 - 3 🔵 | #FACup pic.twitter.com/IHULpjCp59
When teams in the Premier League encounter City, they tend to defend in numbers, while keeping an extremely deep and compact line. With experience and skill, Guardiola’s men have found the knack to unlock such a defence.
Swansea, on the other hand, were dynamic in their defending. They employed an offside trap and shrunk the space in midfield whenever needed by reducing the space between their lines.
Usually, teams facing City tend to absorb the pressure while defending deep, repelling crosses and clearing the passes made into the box. The Swans dealt with problems at the source. The player on the ball was always pressed and City were denied space and time for the final pass.
Despite Swansea scoring two goals in 30 minutes, and conceding three goals in the last 22 minutes, their best player on the night was Kristoffer Nordfeldt – their custodian who scored an own-goal.
The Swedish international was peppered by 22 shots, nine of which were on target. He made six incredible saves, including a double stop from close range to deny Aguero from putting the game to bed before City scored the winner.
You could see Nordfeldt letting out shrill screams in an attempt to ensure that the defensive line was totally focused. It truly was a leader’s performance from the Swede.
Unfortunately for him, destiny had other ideas and he was forced to wear the mask of a villain towards the end of the game. Aguero’s penalty hit the woodwork, bounced back into play, rebounded off his legs and hit the back of the net.
A goalkeeping heroic was hence overshadowed due to sheer misfortune.
Swansea’s attack was truly worthy of all the appreciation it can get. They were extremely progressive with their passing and pushed forward with intent.
There was a sense of urgency – yet patience – in each of their attacks. Swansea were swift in their movements, but never hastened into regrettable decision making.
For the first goal, Mike van der Hoorn lofted a perfectly weighted ball for Connor Roberts to control with great precision. The full-back did well to get past Fabian Delph and draw a foul from the Englishman into the box. Grimes did well to convert from the spot.
The second goal was a product of some exquisite link-up play that Guardiola himself would be proud of. Celina passed the ball to Daniel James, who carried it before handing it to Nathan Dyer. The midfielder returned it to Celina, who capped the brilliant move with a spectacular finish past a hapless Ederson.
Swansea were fluent in attack, playing a lot of forward passes, exploiting the space left by City’s full-backs and were doing everything right. On any other day, it could easily have been a two-goal margin win for the hosts, but it was not meant to be.
The Swans were eliminated, thanks to certain questionable decisions, but even in defeat they taught the top clubs how City need to be dealt with.
If a team from the Championship can outplay City, it’s clear that Guardiola’s forces are not invincible and the blue print laid out on Saturday could come handy for teams in the Premier League and the Champions League.
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