MAN CITY 3, BIRMINGHAM CITY 0
Bernardo Silva rediscovered the goalscoring touch which has deserted him in the current campaign for Manchester City.
The Portuguese international, who had failed to find the net this season in 17 appearances, struck twice in the space of seven first-half minutes in their Emirates FA Cup, third-round tie against Birmingham City.
The goals put City 2-0 ahead inside quarter of an hour as Pep Guardiola’s side breezed past the struggling Championship club at the Etihad as they made it six straight wins in all competitions.
Phil Foden also scored as City, three ahead at the break were able to make three substitutions as the break and cruise in the second period as Birmingham, 18th in the Championship where they are six games without a win, were overpowered.Embed from Getty Images
And it was an afternoon in which Guardiola was able to give a run out to youngsters Taylor Harwood-Bellis, Felix Nmecha and Liam Delap as he looked to the future.
“In terms of the dynamic of the group, they have been training with us for some time, and the young players made a contribution to help us,” he said.
Guardiola was pleased how well City started the game.
He explained: “The first objective was to qualify for the next round.
“It was a really good first-half performance. Some players who hadn’t minutes deserved to play and others were given a few minutes while some of the young players were involved.”
City’s manager revealed Sergio Aguero’s absence was due to him being in contact with somebody who had contracted Covid so he was self-isolating.
“It was the perfect day to get minutes, but unfortunately he could not play and he will have to wait for another match,” he said.
There was no Aguero in City’s squad – it was anticipated that the Argentina striker would have been fit enough make his first start since October.
It was still a strong line-up from Guardiola, though. He made five changes from the team that beat Manchester United in the Carabao Cup semi-final on Wednesday night – Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker, Silva, Rodrigo and Gabriel Jesus were the players who came in.
They replaced John Stones, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ilkay Gundogan, Fernandinho and Raheem Sterling who didn’t even make the matchday squad.
Birmingham made four changes from the side that lost to Blackburn last weekend. Andres Prieto, Maxime Colin, Jon-Miquel Toran and Scott Hogan all returning.
Colin was the last player to score a goal for Birmingham, on December 19. They have drawn a blank in their three Championship games since.
City paid a moving tribute to legend Colin Bell who died earlier in the week aged 74.
As the players, who were wearing black armbands, stood in silence around the centre circle, a beautiful montage of Bell in action was played to music on the big screen overlooking the Eithad.
And Silva opened the scoring for City in the eighth minute with a goal Bell would have been proud to score.
Birmingham headed Joao Cancelo’s cross clear but only as far as Silva whose half volley from the edge of the box arrowed into the top corner.
City doubled their lead after quarter of an hour following a delightful passing move which ended with Kevin De Bruyne cutting the ball back from the by-line for Silva to slot home from six yards.
Jesus was denied by goalkeeper Prieto and VAR rejected a penalty appeal for Mikel San Jose’s challenge on Foden before City added a third goal in the 33rd minute.
Mahrez provided the assist after a surging run and Foden fired home his seventh goal of the season from outside the box.
City goalkeeper Zack Steffen was called into action belatedly after 35 minutes with a decent diving save to keep out George Friend’s deflected effort.
Jesus almost added a fourth when Prieto partially blocked his shot which was trickling towards goal until Maikel Kieftenbeld cleared off the line while Silva, looked to complete a second City hat-trick fired into the side netting.
With the game won, Guardiola made three changes at the break as Ruben Dias, De Bruyne and Cancelo made way for Stones, Nmecha and Harwood-Bellis.
Silva had a couple of chance to complete his hat-trick, but a third goal was proving elusive.
Mahrez found the net after an hour with a terrific volley from Rodrigo’s cross, but it was ruled out for offside with VAR confirming the decision made by the officials was correct.
City made a fourth change mid-half as Fernandinho replaced Rodrigo, quickly followed by a fifth as Delap took over from Jesus.
The second half, a non-event, almost produced a late goal for Birmingham as substitute Jeremie Bela’s drive from outside the box hit the crossbar and another effort was spilled by Steffen.