After two weeks, the inevitable news that Manchester City had booked their place in the final of the Carabao Cup could finally be confirmed as a mixed City side beat Burton Albion 1-0 at the Pirelli Stadium, sealing a 10-0 aggregate victory.
Sergio Aguero netted the only goal of the match, but the Brewers could be proud of the fact that they had shown a true account of themselves against the defending cup and Premier League champions, one that seemed almost bi-polar compared to the walkover they were on the receiving end of 14 days ago.
City will play the winner of Thursday’s second leg between London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but this was a night all about the hosts from League One, Burton.
For Burton, the thought of reaching the semi-finals of a major domestic cup was only ever supposed to be a dream that the Brewers’ loyal fan base, many of which still have fairly recent memories of playing in non-league, were unlikely to ever see become a reality. Under Nigel Clough, they have known to expect the unexpected, having seen the former Liverpool and England striker guide them from the Southern League to spending the previous two campaigns in the Championship. This, however, was a task way out of Clough’s often ambitious capabilities.
Burton’s supporters had the exciting prospect of a second leg in front of the home crowd to look forward to when the draw was made, the biggest night in the club’s 69-year history. But when Pep Guardiola’s Sky Blues handed out a 9-0 tonking to a plucky, but powerless Burton side a fortnight ago, they knew an uphill struggle was on their hands.
Still, the second leg had the incredibly unlikely potential of becoming an underdog story that would have seen David attempt to take on Goliath, and the whole of Israel with one pebble. Whilst Guardiola had made a number of changes to his City team from that whom had strolled past Huddersfield without really taking off the handbrake on Sunday, his side still included the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Riyad Mahrez.
That trio were at the core as City continued to carry on from whey they had left off a fortnight ago, De Bruyne’s sweeping pass to his right finding the run of club-record signing Mahrez, who cleverly teed-up all-time record goalscorer Aguero, making no mistake in taking his total for the season up to 15 in all competitions.
Keen to give the sell-out crowd a night to remember, Burton started the match on the front-foot, Liam Boyce and Marcus Harness both causing City’s back-line, including the lesser-known centre-back pairing of Phillip Sandler and Eric Garcia problems before falling even further behind.
The hosts came out raring to go as they continued their enigmatic approach to the game after the interval, with Harness’ constant pressure continuing to add pressure to an already cautious visiting defence, the home crowd roared into life when David Templeton felt that he had been fouled in the penalty area, although referee Kevin Friend thought little of it.
Chances for City came not as often as many would have expected them too, but when De Bruyne and Foden combined for a move on the hour-mark that was a carbon copy of their opening goal, punters would have felt confident that Aguero would doubled his total for the evening from close-range, baffling both himself and the 6,000-strong crowd when he steered his effort wide. Moments later, both he and De Bruyne were taken off, which saw the first leg’s four-goal dangerman Gabriel Jesus and the returning World Cup winner Benjamin Mendy come on in their places.
Screams could be heard from behind City’s goal, with Burton presented two fantastic to score. A slip from young centre-back Garcia gifted the ball to Boyce, who was unable to really test Arijanet Muric with his close-range effort, but the rebound fell to Will Miller, whose venomous follow-up was cleared off the line by Sandler.
Two minutes from time, when Burton’s chieif-tormenter Jesus saw his effort saved by home goalkeeper Bradley Collins, currently on loan from Chelsea, the young stopper may have celebrated a little more in his head given the grief that the Brazilian had caused Collins earlier this month.
Regardless of the second leg’s scoreline, Burton fans will forever remember the night when they were a 10-0 victory away from reaching a League Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
Burton Albion (4-2-3-1): Collins; Akins, McFadzean, Turner (Hutchinson, 40), McRory; Quinn (Fox, 46), Wallace; Harness, Miller, Templeton; Boyce (Daniel, 77).
Subs not used: Bywater, Brayford, Buxton, Sbarra, Daniel.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Muric; Danilo, Garcia, Sandler, Zinchenko (Nmecha, 77), De Bruyne (Mendy, 63), Delph, Foden; Mahrez, Aguero (Jesus, 63), Poveda.
Subs not used: Grimshaw, Stones, Bolton, Richards.
Referee: K. Friend.