Phil Foden scored twice in a rare start for Manchester City on Tuesday as Pep Guardiola’s team coasted into the FA Cup quarterfinals with a 3-0 win against EFL Championship team Bristol City at Ashton Gate in Bristol, England.
1. Man City look unconvincing, but don’t bet against them
Ask most Man City fans and they will tell you that the team’s performances of Pep Guardiola’s team this season have been the least impressive since the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich‘s coach’s first campaign in charge back in 2016-17, when the team failed to win a trophy.
Those fans are probably right considering the heights Man City have reached since that season, but after winning at Ashton Gate, they are still alive in three competitions, and it would be foolish to suggest they will be unsuccessful in any of them.
You won’t hear much talk of a treble at the Etihad right now, even though City are now in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup — but make no mistake, Guardiola’s team could still win all three trophies. They are just two points behind Premier League leaders Arsenal and have a home second leg in their Champions League round-of-16 tie against RB Leipzig, with the score at 1-1 from the first leg.
Yes, City aren’t playing well and have been unconvincing for a while, but this win highlighted just why they can still achieve a treble.
Phil Foden, who rarely starts these days, scored twice to make a point to Guardiola, while Kalvin Phillips and Julian Alvarez were also given their chance to impress. City have such depth that they can make changes, start with the likes of Erling Haaland, Jack Grealish and Rodri on the bench, and still win.
Their recent trophy-winning pedigree makes them favourites to win the FA Cup and history has shown that the best team doesn’t always win the Champions League, so an inconsistent City could still win that competition. And it would be ironic if, after so many years of being levels above the rest, they finally win the Champions League while not being so formidable this time around.
2. Despite goal, De Bruyne still stuck in post-World Cup slump
Kevin De Bruyne has been one of the best midfielders ever to grace the Premier League, but the 31-year-old is struggling to emerge from his post-World Cup form slump. His goal in the 81st minute of this win was classic De Bruyne, but it shouldn’t mask his otherwise average performance.
Since returning from Belgium‘s early exit at Qatar 2022, De Bruyne has scored just twice in 13 appearances and he has rarely produced the kind of powerhouse performances that have become his trademark in a Man City shirt.
Against Bristol City, all of the usual effort and commitment was there, but there were only brief flashes of the quality that he possesses, despite facing a team that are currently sat in mid-table in the EFL Championship.
De Bruyne missed last week’s Champions League tie against RB Leipzig in Germany because of illness and he was also dropped to the bench for the defeat at Tottenham earlier this month, so there are mitigating factors for his below-par performances in recent weeks. But after over a decade at the top with Wolfsburg and City, De Bruyne simply looks exhausted.
With City still pushing for success on three fronts, Guardiola will need De Bruyne back to his best when the decisive games come around in April and May. Maybe it is time to give De Bruyne a break to recharge his batteries in order to be fresh and firing for the run-in.
3. Bristol City shows there’s young talent outside Premier League
Alex Scott is a name worth making a note of. The Bristol City midfielder is only 19 years old, but he was arguably the best player on the night against the Premier League champions.
With his socks rolled down his shins and an appetite for running at the opposition, Scott looks and plays like Man City’s £100 million star Jack Grealish, who was on the substitutes’ bench for this game.
But he also showed that he has the courage to take the ball and look for openings further forward. When the top clubs scout players, one of the biggest attributes any young player must have is the readiness to be bold enough to go forward rather than play it safe by passing backwards or sideways and Scott always looked forward.
Scott hails from the tiny island of Guernsey in the English Channel — just like Southampton great Matt Le Tissier — and the youngster clearly has a big future in the game.
The same can be said for Sam Bell, another of Bristol City’s homegrown stars, who was impressive up front at the age of just 20.
Few Premier League teams prioritise the lower levels of English football when looking for new players as they now favour European or South American leagues. But Scott and Bell proved against City that there is plenty of talent worth watching in England outside the Premier League.
Best and worst performers
Best: Phil Foden, Manchester City
The Man City winger made a rare start at Ashton Gate, but he more than justified his selection and did enough to suggest he should start more often. Scored a crucial goal and offered plenty of threat.
Best: Alex Scott, Bristol City
The Bristol City player is only 19, but he was the best midfielder on the pitch, despite being up against so many internationals in the Man City side.
Best: Sam Bell, Bristol City
Man City’s defenders won’t forget the Bristol City forward in a hurry. The 20-year-old pressed incessantly and just lacked a finishing touch to score for the home side.
Worst: Julian Alvarez, Manchester City
He may have won a World Cup with Argentina, but back on club duty, Alvarez needed to do more to persuade Pep Guardiola that he is more than just a squad player.
Worst: Ederson, Manchester City
The goalkeeper only played the second-half as a half-time substitute for Stefan Ortega, but he was erratic and almost gifted the home side two goals.
Worst: Nahki Wells, Bristol City
A tough ask to score against City’s defence, but the Bermuda international forward needed to do more to make life difficult for Guardiola’s defenders.
Highlights and notable moments
Phil Foden put Manchester City ahead in only the seventh minute, allowing his side to coast for much of the game.
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) February 28, 2023
Foden returned 67 minutes later to strike again with a lovely pass from Julián Álvarez.
The goal made the result his fifth multigoal game for Manchester City in all competitions.
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) February 28, 2023
After the match: What the managers and players said
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on talk of a treble: “No, forget about it. Forget it. When you start to talk about that, you start to lose competitions and drop competitions. We are not ready. Not even one second to think about that is, we just think about [next game against] Newcastle.”
Guardiola on Phil Foden’s performance: “Dynamic, rhythm, work rate, his quality. His career was always up, up, up. This season he struggled a bit and was a bit down. But now he’s back for the best bit of the season.”
Foden on his performance after a tough spell: “I feel much better with my feet. I feel 100 percent fit now and comfortable. It has been one of the worst parts of my career but everyone goes through them and it is how you react. [The issue was] discomfort in my feet and not playing as much. I love to play football and when I don’t I am a bit frustrated.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
This is Manchester City’s fifth straight appearance in the FA Cup quarterfinals. The previous four times they reached that round, they advanced to at least the semifinals.
With the loss, Bristol City’s 12-game unbeaten streak in all competitions has been snapped. It was their longest since a 15-game streak in 2018-19.
Bristol City: The Robins return to league play in the Championship with games at Cardiff City (March 4) and Huddersfield Town (March 7). Then they host Blackpool on March 11 (stream live on ESPN+ at 7:30 a.m. ET).
Manchester City: The Citizens host Newcastle United in Premier League action on Saturday, March 4 at 7:30 a.m. ET. Then they visit Crystal Palace the following week in league play on Saturday, March 11.