Aro Muric was Manchester City’s hero as the holders edged into the EFL Cup semi-finals 3-1 on penalties following a 1-1 draw at Leicester City.
Kevin De Bruyne, starting for the first time since suffering a medial knee ligament injury in the previous round against Fulham, gave Pep Guardiola’s side an early lead with a magnificent strike from outside the box.
A Leicester side featuring seven changes from their weekend defeat to Crystal Palace often lacked fluency but Marc Albrighton thumped home an equaliser 17 minutes from time.
It meant the sides would settle a 1-1 quarter-final draw from the penalty spot, as they did 12 months ago, and Leicester showed little of the poise that had seen them through the previous two rounds via shoot-outs.
Christian Fuchs blazing over and tame, saved attempts from James Maddison and Caglar Soyuncu meant Raheem Sterling was spared following a woeful take on the Panenka. Fellow substitutes Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus were on target before Oleksandr Zinchenko sent the visitors through.
With the travelling supporters in good voice, merrily marking Jose Mourinho’s demise, De Bruyne cleverly shuffled into space and lashed home from 25 yards in the 14th minute.
Riyad Mahrez smashed over from the corner of the six-yard box against his former club but there were few other clear openings as rain teemed down upon a frenetic contest before half-time.
45. A cracking first half of football; time for another!
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 18, 2018
Sergio Aguero, like De Bruyne making his return to the starting XI following an injury lay-off, sprung the Leicester offside trap early in the second period. Goalkeeper Danny Ward repelled his shot.
Mahrez created that opportunity and curled narrowly over in the 67th minute but, after Gundogan came on for De Bruyne, the Premier League champions were made to pay for not turning their control of the contest into further goals.
A lofted pass from Wilfred Ndidi caught out left-back Zinchenko and Albrighton finished emphatically.
Mahrez went close again in familiar surroundings and the otherwise impressive Phil Foden skewed wide on his weaker right foot, leaving Ederson’s understudy Muric to enjoy his moment in the spotlight.
What it means:
Manchester City are into the semi-finals alongside the surprise package, League One Burton Albion. Arsenal against Tottenham and Chelsea versus Bournemouth are Wednesday’s semi-finals, with City still on course to be the first team to retain this trophy since Manchester United in 2010. Indeed, United remain the only team Guardiola has lost to in the competition, when Juan Mata scored the solitary goal at Old Trafford in the 2016-17 fourth round.
Garcia shows maturity beyond his years
Guardiola sprung a surprise by selecting rookie Eric Garcia in his starting line-up. A product of the Barcelona youth system, the 17-year-old wasted little time in showing why he arrived at City so highly recommended last year. Excellent positioning averted early danger from a Demarai Gray cross and astute reading of the game, along with a natural assurance in possession, were features of Garcia’s performance throughout.
Walker feeling the effects of draining 2018
The rotations elsewhere in Guardiola’s XI could not be replicated at right-back, with Brazil international Danilo again unavailable through injury. It meant Kyle Walker returning to the well and the defender, who starred on the right of a back three during England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals after being arguably the Premier League standout at full-back last season, looked like he has played every one of those minutes. How he must wish Christmas holidays were on the cards for people in his profession.
The champions entertain Palace on Saturday, by which point Liverpool could be four points clear of them at the Premier League summit after their trip to Wolves on Friday. Palace made it back-to-back league losses for Leicester last weekend and Claude Puel’s men will look to remedy that at Chelsea.
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