Manchester City booked their place in this year’s FA Cup final after a thumping 3-0 victory over Sheffield United on Saturday.
After his 42nd-minute penalty broke Sheffield United’s resistance at the end of the first half, the Algeria international ran through a parting defence just after the hour mark to add his second before sweeping in a fine third in the 66th minute from Jack Grealish’s cross, to leave City supporters dreaming of a historic treble.
It could have been different had Sheffield United top scorer Iliman Ndiaye not shot straight at Stefan Ortega when the ball fell to him inside the six-yard box with just two minutes on the clock.
The Championship side also felt hard done by when 19-year-old Daniel Jebbison was punished for the penalty, his lash at the ball was rash but he appeared to make contact with it before bringing down Bernardo Silva.
But, in the end, City had too much for the promotion-chasing Blades, and Pep Guardiola’s side will now face either Manchester United or Brighton for the trophy on June 3.Manchester United or Brighton for the trophy on June 3.
City had lost at the semi-final stage of this competition three years running but their FA Cup final appearance will form part of their hunt for three trophies at the end of this season.
They host wobbling Premier League leaders Arsenal in a crucial game at the Etihad on Wednesday night, while a Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid is to come in May, as City aim to replicate the 1998/99 treble heroics of their neighbours Man Utd.
Wednesday is a big night for Sheffield United too – they can secure a return to the Premier League with victory over West Brom and cap a memorable season. But Saturday’s test was too tough.
City had lost four of their last five matches at Wembley and the big favourites on Saturday had an early scare moments after kick-off when a corner came to Ndiaye at the back post – but he could not angle his shot past Ortega. Just minutes later he fired past the near post, after racing onto a flick-on.
It was a super start from the underdogs but their real challenge was to keep City at bay at the other end, which they set about with real determination. Guardiola’s men took complete control of the ball, racking up 80 per cent possession at one point, but could not get near Wes Foderingham’s goal. Sheffield United’s deep defence restricted Mahrez, Julian Alvarez and Bernardo Silva to speculative efforts from distance.
With half-time approaching, City looked short of inspiration in the final third – but Jebbison’s moment of inexperience gifted them a way through. The teenager swivelled and struck at the ball to try to clear when Bernardo Silva miscued a volley into the air but floored the Portuguese in the process
Mahrez made no mistake from the spot, striking into the bottom corner.
City started the second half with more purpose, with Erling Haaland unable to turn in a deflected Sergio Gomez shot and Alvarez shooting over. But they were handed another opening on the hour mark when John Egan and Jack Robinson backed off Mahrez, who suddenly found himself in the box and able to convert his second.
The tie was sealed five minutes later when Mahrez met Grealish’s centre sweetly, whipping the ball home despite Foderingham getting a hand to the shot. He now has 19 goal contributions (12 goals and seven assists) in 23 appearances since the World Cup break.
From there on it was a procession. Sheffield United have now lost in their last six FA Cup semi-finals – but their celebrations could come in midweek. For City, the big prizes are almost within reach.
Arsenal visit Manchester City on Wednesday April 26 in the Premier League; kick off 8pm.