MANCHESTER, England — Pep Guardiola insists talk of a quadruple is “not realistic” but Manchester City aren’t going to give up on winning one of the four trophies without a fight. Not if the 4-1 FA Cup victory over Burnley is anything to go by.
Trailing 1-0 at half-time to Sean Dyche’s gritty and stubborn side that has conceded on average less than a goal a game in the Premier League, a showpiece FA Cup final next May seemed like the “illusion” Guardiola had described.
But Guardiola’s players simply cranked up the style and blew away the Clarets with an emphatic second-half performance. Sergio Aguero, who had ineffectively ambled through the first half, scored twice in 94 seconds; Leroy Sane added a sumptuous third and set up the fourth for Bernardo Silva, and with that Burnley’s resilience was cracked.
The FA Cup is probably the competition that Guardiola could most comfortably give up on. Going into the game against the Clarets, a place at Wembley was a minimum of five matches away — ignoring the nightmare scenario of replays.
Success in the Champions League will undoubtedly be the hardest to achieve but Guardiola is determined that his side will challenge and with a favourable draw against Swiss side FC Basel, it’s not inconceivable that they can make progress deep into the competition.
And with City 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League and most managers already conceding the title race is over, the FA Cup is a competition that looks like the best opportunity of silverware for rivals Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham — with the first two already into the hat after fourth-round victories.
Even Arsenal and Chelsea, who meet in the other Carabao Cup semifinal, will take the competition seriously although all will consider they have European ambitions to challenge for as well as a battle for a top-four place.
City’s own semifinal is just three days away against Championship high-flyers Bristol City, which is quickly followed by a trip to Anfied to face Liverpool in what could be potentially their biggest test left in the Premier League.
Yet despite that, Guardiola named a strong side. “My priority is the next one — tomorrow,” Guardiola said before the game and he was true to his word with Nicolas Otamendi, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho all starting, while Claudio Bravo and Oleksandr Zinchenko were given rare starts too.
David Silva, who has been travelling to and from Valencia following the premature birth of his son Mateo, was also back in Manchester for the game. The efforts of the Spanish midfielder, who has been at the club for eight years, were appreciated by the fans who gave a warm tribute of applause in the 21st minute.
“David is a legend for the club for what he has done,” Guardiola said. “I am happy for him to have made his statement and it is not easy for him to travel to Spain and England back and forth.”
Burnley had caused problems when the two sides met in the Premier League and they did it again. City were by no means at their worst, Fernandinho and Sane missing good first-half opportunities, but Burnley’s physical approach has a way of disrupting the top sides.
Dyche has masterminded wins at Chelsea and Everton as well as securing draws at Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United. The only blip away to top-six sides this season was a 3-0 defeat at the Etihad in October.
And they were ahead in the 25th minute when Ashley Barnes pounced on John Stones’ uncharacteristic error to blast a shot past Bravo.
With Burnley’s mean streak, the worst scenario was potentially for City to pull one goal back and force a replay at Turf Moor that neither side wanted. Instead they showed the qualities that no English side has been able to find a way of overcoming and turned the game on its head.
Ilkay Gundogan’s clever free kick put in Aguero for the equaliser and the German’s brilliant back-heel put his teammate in again to turn the score around two minutes later.
Dyche said after the game that “teams like this almost smell that moment and they did”. Guardiola showed his killer instincts by sending for Kyle Walker and Kevin De Bruyne from the bench and City ensured there was no chance of a replay. First Sane drilled a delightful third before making the most of Nick Pope’s horrendous misjudgement to set up Bernardo Silva for the fourth.
If the unlikely quadruple is going to happen, Guardiola will need every single player in his squad to be playing at their absolute best. And the Catalan believes they have made a good start.
“All the guys who don’t play regularly, they were amazing,” he said. “We need time to recover perfectly for Kyle and Kevin. If we want to compete in all competitions, we need all the players and especially at the moment because we are still in all the competitions.”
Jonathan is ESPN FC’s Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.