Quadruple still on as Man City face minnows

At some point towards the end of 2017, the questions surrounding Manchester City changed. It became a matter of how many competitions they would win, rather than whether or not Pep Guardiola would get off the mark in his hunt for his first trophy at the Etihad.


Peterborough      Vs      Leicester City         2:30pm

MK Dons                Vs      Coventry City         5pm

Hull City                 Vs      N’gham Forest

Notts County        Vs      Swansea City

Middlesbrough    Vs      Brighton

Southampton       Vs      Watford

Millwall                  Vs      Rochdale

Huddersfield         Vs      Birmingham City

Sheffield Utd         Vs      Preston

Wigan Athletic     Vs      West Ham

Newport County  Vs      Tottenham            7:30pm

Liverpool               Vs      West Brom            9:45pm


Chelsea                   Vs      Newcastle              3:30pm

Cardiff City                       Vs                   Man City    6pm

LONDON – At some point towards the end of 2017, the questions surrounding Manchester City changed. It became a matter of how many competitions they would win, rather than whether or not Pep Guardiola would get off the mark in his hunt for his first trophy at the Etihad.

It’s a sign of how well his team have performed and gives him the opportunity to rest players in league matches with such a well-established lead and cup competitions to win.

City, Carabao Cup finalists after seeing off Bristol City, go into Sunday’s game away at Cardiff in the FA Cup fourth round as the clear favourites again. But if they ease up even slightly then talk of a Quadruple will be end prematurely.

Guardiola should be expecting more of the same from his latest Championship opponents and the travelling fans shouldn’t expect a comfortable ride to the next round.

There is an opportunity for City in this tie that wasn’t there in similar games earlier in the campaign. Guardiola can afford to focus a little more on the cup competitions after his side’s relentless assault on the Premier League this term, and a 12-point buffer between the league leaders and second place means the manager could name stronger cup teams than he might have expected at this stage.

He will need to, as well. Even when Manchester City draw a lower league team in a domestic cup competition, they manage to pull out a tricky tie.

In their run to the Carabao Cup final this season, they’ve beaten Wolves on penalties after a 0-0 draw and progressed over two legs against Bristol City, winning 2-1 at home and 3-2 away.

 The former are the Championship’s runaway leaders, while the latter are well in the hunt for a playoff place in the same division.

Supporters have been bemoaning their side’s bad luck in cup draws in recent years, as, generally speaking, Guardiola (and Manuel Pellegrini before him) found themselves with an uninspiring away tie to mid-table Premier League team.

They were the sort of fixtures instantly overlooked by broadcasters because they just weren’t interesting.

When they got someone from lower down the football pyramid, they were usually pushing for promotion from the Championship. Last season, the only non top flight draw City got were Huddersfield -- then leaders of the second tier.

The campaign before, seven of their eight domestic knockout ties were against Premier League opposition, the outlier being a home fixture with Hull. They were second in the Championship at the time, and went on to win promotion.

In fact, the last team City had an opponent from outside the top two divisions was when Mark Hughes was knocked out of the League Cup on penalties after a 2-2 draw by Brighton in September 2008.

In the FA Cup, it’s a run that stretches back to December 1999 -- and a 4-1 win over the now defunct Chester City.

That’s why, when Cardiff beat Mansfield 4-1 in their FA Cup replay earlier in January, City fans’ hearts sunk.

They had been guaranteed a lower league draw, but had been hoping for a trip to the League Two side rather than yet another Championship high-flier. It’s better and more interesting than another mid-table Premier League team -- but only slightly.

A strong team would be advised for the trip to Cardiff. After a poor run of form has seen them slip into third and out of the automatic promotion spots in the Championship, they will be dangerous -- they’ve nothing to lose against the top flight leaders and they’re looking for a big result to get back on track for the season.

Neil Warnock probably won’t rotate his squad, as he did for the initial 0-0 draw with Mansfield in round three.

If City’s previous ties against Championship teams this season have taught them anything then they won’t be expecting an easy game.

Guardiola’s side got lucky in beating Wolves -- the West Midlands outfit missed three one-on-ones with Claudio Bravo, including one in second half stoppage time, in a game where they looked the more likely before the penalty shootout.

Over two legs, Bristol City gave Guardiola a better test than most Premier League teams have so far this season. They pressed high and harried his defenders, and it was a mark of how well Lee Johnson’s side did in the first leg that the City boss named a near full strength XI for the return.

In South Wales, City will face more tests along those lines. They’ve shown how they’re able to cope with cauldron atmospheres in previous rounds of this season’s cups and in some of their away league matches.

Meanwhile, the hard work and enthusiasm lower league sides have shown in raising their game to face City has been a leveller -- particularly when Guardiola has made changes -- so there’s no room for complacency.