City in riverside stroll

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero evades Middlesbrough defender Fabio da Silva to score his side's second goal off a cross from Leroy Sane in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero evades Middlesbrough defender Fabio da Silva to score his side's second goal off a cross from Leroy Sane in the FA Cup quarter-finals.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Guardiola's men have far too much pedigree for Boro, whose 'keeper held visitors at bay

FA CUP
Middlesbrough 0 Manchester City 2

LONDON • If Leroy Sane was almost certainly Manchester City's Man of the Match last night, Brad Guzan's status as Middlesbrough's outstanding individual brooked absolutely no debate.

Aitor Karanka's goalkeeper performed wonders to keep the scoreline down to 2-0 at the Riverside Stadium on a day when Pep Guardiola's side - all their world-class players were involved - warmed up for Wednesday's second leg Champions League tie in Monaco by extending their unbeaten run to 11 games as they coasted into the FA Cup semi-finals.

While the visiting performance was surely good enough for Guardiola to temporarily forget his strained relationship with Karanka - something stemming from their respective Barcelona-Real Madrid pedigrees and associations with a certain Jose Mourinho - Boro's manager can expect awkward questions about his job security to resurface.

Karanka's relegation-threatened players - languishing after failing to win any of their last 10 Premier League games - are probably best served by being out of the Cup.

But the home manager - who had threatened to offer Guardiola a post-match glass of cut-price cava - will be deeply concerned by yet another game in which his side failed to score, were thoroughly outclassed and displayed little fighting spirit.

Yaya Toure joked that Guardiola has gone from dubbing him the squad's "uncle figure" to applying the label "grandfather" but all that experience came in handy in the third minute when City's veteran midfielder spotted Pablo Zabaleta overlapping from right-back and lofted a pass in his direction.

With Karanka's defence caught uncharacteristically cold, Zabaleta was able to direct a cross towards Raheem Sterling and, although the winger misjudged that delivery, David Silva was lurking unattended just behind him and duly delighted in flicking out his left boot and beating Guzan, courtesy of a close-range half-volley.

A team very much designed to defend, Boro are not great at coming up with Plan Bs and, sure enough, they struggled to get going.

For a while, they succeeded in pressing City high up the pitch, preventing them from passing out from the back and slowing their initially rapid tempo.

A spell in which the game became unexpectedly and intriguingly - if scrappily - even ensued but, with Sane's pace persistently troubling Antonio Barragan, it could not last.

While Guzan did well to make four fine saves in the space of 10 minutes, twice from Sane and also from Silva and Aguero, the American had no answer to Sane's subsequent, thoroughly startling, change of pace and fabulous, beautifully weighted low cross which precipitated Sergio Aguero guiding a shot home from about six metres out in the 67th minute.

The remaining quarter of the match was all about Guzan as he saved superbly from Silva and Aguero, who was unlucky to see a subsequent "goal" ruled out for offside.

When Middlesbrough did create a rare chance for Fabio da Silva, it was cleared off the line by John Stones.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 12, 2017, with the headline 'City in riverside stroll'. Print Edition | Subscribe