Bernardo Silva’s double sees Man City coast to Cup win over Birmingham City

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As Manchester City paid tribute to a goalscoring midfielder, another belatedly remembered how to find the net. City had emerged in shirts featuring the No 8 worn by Colin Bell for much of his distinguished career at Maine Road, along with a banner proclaiming “the king”, their late, great player of the 1960s and 70s.

Bell remains the only midfielder to score 150 goals for City. If Bernardo Silva had not quite proved as prolific, a return of 30 in his first three seasons in Manchester was very respectable. He began this season by going 17 games without a goal and extricated himself from a drought with two inside 15 minutes. The player who Pep Guardiola believes was the best in the Premier League in 2018-19 has regressed since then, but this was a reminder of the quality he possesses.

If the stage was set for a return to the scoresheet when Guardiola promised Sergio Agüero a first start since October, City’s record scorer ended up quarantined. “Unfortunately he was in contact more than usual with one person who is positive [for coronavirus],” said Guardiola. “He tested negative but he is isolating.” Instead, Silva’s double included the sort of predatory strike Agüero would be proud to call his own.

It was rather too much for Birmingham City. Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough eliminated Sunday’s hosts from the FA Cup six years ago but his current charges could not stage a sequel. “If you allow them to play, if you are jogging behind the ball instead of being aggressive, the only thing that can happen is what happened,” he said. A rival of Guardiola in many a clásico and a former assistant of José Mourinho at Real Madrid, Karanka has forged a reputation for defensive excellence as a manager but his timid side were elegantly eviscerated in the first half.

“I was pleased when I saw the first XI because it means Pep respected us,” Karanka said. Fresh from reaching a fourth consecutive Carabao Cup final, Guardiola rationalised his strong selection. “If you follow the trajectory for our teams, we don’t drop one competition,” he said. “Every game we play to win.”

And, with victory secured by the break, Guardiola took pity on Birmingham and removed Kevin De Bruyne. A midfielder who has inspired comparisons with Bell – not least from the latter’s former teammate Mike Summerbee – had delivered a masterclass.

It included two defence-splitting balls for Gabriel Jesus. Andrés Prieto saved the Brazilian’s first shot; the second, dinked over him, was cleared off the line by Maikel Kieftenbeld. Like Kyle Walker, Jesus made his comeback after suffering from Covid but, not for the first time, he endured the sort of day when the finish eluded him, the kind that raises doubts if he is the long-term answer; perhaps the more potent Agüero’s absence spared Birmingham a thrashing.

As it was, Silva condemned the Championship team to a sixth defeat in seven games, stripping the afternoon of tension before any of the substitutes could warm up. “We made nice goals,” added Guardiola. “I am happy for Bernardo. He scored two goals and could have scored more.”

Silva’s wait was ended in style with a strike of technical brilliance, the Portuguese latching on to George Friend’s headed clearance to hook in a half-volley. The watching Ederson shouted out his name in celebration. “It was class,” said Zack Steffen, the goalkeeper City had on the pitch.

His second was an altogether simpler finish. This time the excellence came from the move, involving Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez and culminating in De Bruyne’s cutback for Silva. He twice came close to completing a hat-trick, much to the disappointment of Ederson, who emerged from quarantine to exclaim his colleague’s name at regular intervals.

Thereafter, Foden drilled in a shot after Mahrez laid the ball off to him and the fractionally offside Mahrez had a goal disallowed. City eased up, permitting Felix Nmecha an outing in the No 10 role, Liam Delap a cameo in attack and Taylor Harwood-Bellis a second half in the defence. Birmingham belatedly sparked to life. Their substitute Jérémie Bela unleashed a couple of ferocious shots, glancing a post and clipping the bar, and Karanka lamented: “We finished the game in the way we should have started it.”

GUARDIAN UK

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