Manchester City’s tilt at a record fifth successive League Cup triumph took flight with a victory that impressed because of how Pep Guardiola’s much-changed side responded to conceding first.
Wycombe may be fifth in League One yet their scoring the opener was a test for the young defence they breached, which from this moment held firm. With their talent-depth City should beat this ilk of opponent but this was an XI featuring a back four of teenagers, and Guardiola was delighted with their display.
On this showing City fans can anticipate a new wave of home-reared talent breaking into the first-team picture, with Cole Palmer’s final finish coming from a 19-year-old midfielder who danced forward before lasering in a memorable first goal.
Afterwards, Guardiola positively purred. “We have the feeling we have talented players and we can count on them,” the manager said. “They train with us and we know how good they are. They have skills and the work ethic. Everything can happen [for them].
“I’m so proud to be the manager of this club and thanks to the academy for helping these players. We saw today how good they are. I can enjoy it – I know that these players coming up through the academy have something special and our fans love to see this.”
Gareth Ainsworth’s team arrived boosted by Saturday’s win over Charlton, a first for a month, though repeating the feat at this venue, against this City side, was a lot to ask. A glimmer of hope might be found in Guardiola’s XI containing the 18-year-olds, Conrad Egan-Riley, Finley Burns and Josh Wilson-Esbrand, plus Luke Mbete and Romeo Lavia, 12 months younger: in all, five debutants. But a front quintet of Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Ferran Torres and Riyad Mahrez was stellar.
Wycombe were captained by their centre-forward, Adebayo Akinfenwa, the 39-year-old self-monikered “Beast”, whose first offering was a shove on Burns that went unnoticed by Robert Jones, the referee.
City were soon in their flow. Foden, Mahrez and Sterling tapped the ball around before the latter two combined: the Algerian flipped a pass to the England man who missed with an attempted volley.
Next, the visitors travelling support sang: “There’s only one Gareth Ainsworth,” then saw Wilson-Ebrand fashion a one-two with Sterling but the left-back’s cross was overhit. What Wycombe needed was to somehow wrest possession and go at the callow back five and see if it might crack.
So it proved. Akinfenwa claimed a header and the ball moved left to Jordan Obita before Zack Steffen steered the No 23’s shot out for a corner. In this came, the keeper again cleared, but the ball went to Sullay Kaikai, whose effort pinballed from Torres, and there was Ryan Tafazolli to pass to an unmarked Brandon Hanlon, who finished. “It was fairytale stuff to lead for five minutes,” said Ainsworth. “I’ll try to take the positives.”
City’s equaliser came via a curved Foden ball to De Bruyne, who swept in from the left and beat David Stockdale at the far post. Sterling went close to a second with a 20-yard curler that defeated the visiting keeper but not the goal frame and Mahrez did the same when later hitting the opposite, left post.
City finally took the lead and it was simple: Wilson-Esbrand crossed from the left and Mahrez converted. Foden then made Guardiola’s interval chat easier by shooting a 20-yard bullet past Stockdale for a 3-1 lead.
Ainsworth could offer encouragement for the second half while surely hoping this did not become a duck shoot for City. De Bruyne signalled it might do when racing clear early on and feeding Sterling but Mahrez fluffed an attempt from his pass. Egan-Riley was the next provider, from right-back, landing the ball on Foden’s head though the effort lacked power.
But, as he can do, Guardiola was guilty of over-coaching Foden and Wycombe might have pulled one back. The manager ordered his No 47 to leave Kaikai free from a corner despite Foden’s protestations, only for him to be found from the kick and City were lucky not to concede.
This was a rare cessation in City’s dominance. De Bruyne, Torres, and Mahrez took turns to drop off or run in behind but as long as the lead stayed at two Wycombe remained in the contest.
Sadly for them, Torres widened the margin courtesy of Foden whose slide-rule delivery meant the Spaniard could not miss. From here City cruised, Mahrez adding a fifth, before Palmer’s final strike.
The holders, again, appear the side to beat in a cup they just love to defend.
Source: The Guardian