LONDON — A Riyad Mahrez hat-trick earned Manchester City a place in the FA Cup final and kept their treble hopes alive.
Sheffield United matched Pep Guardiola’s side for a large part of the first half but were eventually beaten 3-0. Mahrez scored a penalty late in the first half and added two more after half-time.
– Report: Man City 3-0 Sheffield United
– Highlights: Magic Mahrez puts Man City in FA Cup final (U.S. only)
Guardiola made changes to his team ahead of next week’s pivotal Premier League fixture against Arsenal, but City, who had lost their last three FA Cup semifinals, still had too much for Sheffield United, who can turn their attention back to winning promotion from the Championship.
1. Mahrez steps up for much-changed City
City are on one of those runs when everything seems to be going right. For example, Guardiola took the opportunity to rest Ederson, Ruben Dias, John Stones and Kevin De Bruyne against Sheffield United on Saturday, and in their absence a player who has had to wait for his chance stepped up at a crucial moment.
Mahrez hadn’t scored since February and was on the bench for both legs of the Champions League quarterfinal against Bayern Munich. Yet he was picked to start at Wembley and scored a hat-trick to keep City on course for a treble. The Algerian international’s second goal was a wonderful solo effort, which speaks to the confidence flowing through Guardiola’s team wherever you look. Upcoming opponents like Arsenal and Real Madrid have reason to be worried.
– Stream on ESPN+: FA Cup, LaLiga, Bundesliga (U.S.)
City could even afford for Erling Haaland to have one of those days when even the briefest touches of the ball seemed hard to come by, but when you’ve got players like Mahrez waiting in the wings, it doesn’t really matter. Guardiola will perhaps be annoyed at their first-half performance, though it turned out to be a game they won comfortably without breaking much sweat.
The bigger picture is that City are into the FA Cup final and key players have been rested ahead of Arsenal’s visit to the Etihad Stadium — the Premier League’s likely title decider — on Wednesday.
2. Guardiola can’t run away from treble talk much longer
Guardiola doesn’t want to talk about it, but the treble is on. Arsenal’s mini-collapse in the Premier League means the title is in City’s hands, they’re into the semifinals of the Champions League and remain favourites to lift the trophy and now they’ve booked a place in the FA Cup final.
After eight months of a uniquely hectic season, only 12 games separates City from a place in history and a feat achieved only once before by Manchester United in 1999 is in their sights.
Guardiola will try to play it down as much as possible between now and the end of the season, even attempting to laugh off a question about it at his weekly news conference on Friday. Yet he will know, deep down, that his team have given themselves a wonderful chance of doing something that he’s previously said is practically impossible.
For all the silverware amassed since Guardiola arrived in Manchester in 2016, lifting the Premier League, Champions League and the FA Cup in a single campaign would represent his greatest success in England. You could even argue it would dwarf anything he has done before as a manager at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
3. Sheffield United miss chances to make City sweat
Sheffield United have other priorities this season — namely clinching their return to the Premier League — but their fans will head home from London thinking about what might have been.
What if Iliman Ndiaye had tucked away his golden chance after just 88 seconds? What if Daniel Jebbison had stayed on his feet rather than lunging at Bernardo Silva in the penalty area trying to reach a ball he was never going to win? City might still have won, but if you’re going to beat them then key moments need to go your way. Unfortunately for Sheffield United, they went the way of Guardiola and his players.
The truth, though, is that a trip to Wembley was a nice bonus during a season in which returning to the Premier League was the aim. Manager Paul Heckingbottom has got his team on the verge of securing the second automatic promotion place in the Championship and they only need one more win to get over the line.
When Mahrez scored City’s second goal early in the second half and all hope of a cup shock was lost, the Sheffield United supporters rose as one to chant “the Blades are going up”. Barring an inexplicable collapse, they’ll have Premier League fixtures against City to look forward to next season.
Best and worst performers
Riyad Mahrez, FW, Man City: Didn’t start either game against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League, but he did score a Wembley hat-trick to earn City a place in the FA Cup final.
Ilkay Gundogan, MF, Man City: It was a risk from Guardiola to start without a recognised holding midfielder, but Gundogan plugged the gap.
Stefan Ortega Moreno, GK, Man City: Made a crucial save from Ndiaye after just 88 seconds.
Daniel Jebbison, ST, Sheffield United: It was his moment of madness in conceding the first-half penalty after Sheffield United had worked so hard for 40 minutes.
Illiman Ndiaye, ST, Sheffield United: He really should have taken his chance to put the Championship side ahead inside the first 90 seconds.
Erling Haaland, ST, Man City: A rare off day for the Norwegian striker, but it didn’t matter.
Highlights and notable moments
Saturday was very much the Mahrez Show, with the Algeria international scoring two quick goals either side of half-time to effectively end the contest.
Riyad Mahrez has a brace in the FA Cup semifinals! 🤩 pic.twitter.com/qaguvxOT7z
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 22, 2023
It was neat to see him secure a well-earned hat-trick later in the second half, his first since November, 2020.
HAT TRICK FOR RIYAD MAHREZ AT WEMBLEY 🔥 pic.twitter.com/RK8VGjZ8wj
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 22, 2023
After the match: What the managers, players said
“Excellent performance, we cannot forget three days ago we were in Munich. It took a lot to be here, to try it. We suffered in some actions with long balls. In the end, with the quality from Riyad [Mahrez] and the rest of the guys, we did it.
“The question is not to be in this stage of the competition, it is where we came from fighting for many years fighting for the titles. Being there every year means the mentality of the club — not just the players — is there.
“It is an honour to be in the FA Cup final on 3 June. We will be here. Today we played really good, everyone was serious.” — Man City manager Pep Guardiola, speaking to ITV
“It is very good… but the most important thing is, for two or three years in a row we have come here and lost and didn’t play good… Today we really wanted to make sure we put in a good performance and get to the final… I think we had a good game and we are happy.
“It means a lot [to be in the FA Cup final] because we want to go as far as we can in every competition… now we have to concentrate on the league and the game against Arsenal.” — Man City forward and hat-trick hero, Riyad Mahrez, speaking to ITV
Key Stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Manchester City: advances to first FA Cup final since 2019 (won tournament) after having been eliminated in FA Cup semifinals in the next 3 seasons (2020, 2021, 2022)
– Manchester City: Per Opta, City are the first side to reach FA Cup final without conceding a goal since Everton in 1965-66 (5-0-0; 17 GF, 0 GA in 2022-23 FA Cup)
– Manchester City: 26.3% chance of becoming 2nd team in Premier League era (1998-99 Manchester United) to win European treble (Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League), according to FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index; 75% chance of winning PL, 48% chance of winning UCL, 73% chance of winning FA Cup
– Riyad Mahrez (Man City): First player with a hat-trick in an FA Cup semifinal since Manchester United’s Alex Dawson did so in 1958.
– Mahrez: first player with FA Cup hat trick at Wembley Stadium since Fernando Llorente did so for Tottenham in a 2018 fifth-round replay
– Manchester City: 11-game winning streak in all competitions, the team’s longest since winning 21 straight between December 2020-March 2021
– Pep Guardiola (Man City): seeking 33rd title as a football manager and 12th as Man City’s manager
– Sheffield United: can secure automatic promotion to Premier League with a win against West Brom on Wednesday
Manchester City: Guardiola’s side must turn their attention to a potential title decider vs. Premier League leaders Arsenal on April 26, before visiting Fulham in the league on April 30.
Sheffield United: It’s back to business for the Blades, who host West Brom (April 26) and Preston North End (April 29) with automatic promotion to the Premier League firmly in their sights. A win on Wednesday would do it.