Man City wrap up easy win vs. Cardiff, but star players might need rest
CARDIFF, Wales -- Three points on Man City's easy 2-0 win over Cardiff in the FA Cup fourth round.
1. Man City march on with victory
Manchester City maintained their pursuit of four major trophies this season by coasting to a 2-0 FA Cup fourth-round victory over Cardiff City.
First-half goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling ensured that Pep Guardiola's team avoided the potential banana skin posed by Neil Warnock's men, who currently sit third in the Championship. But the easy manner of City's victory only served to underline their status as favourites to win every domestic competition in England, with the club also among the leading candidates to win the Champions League.
Once De Bruyne put City ahead in the seventh minute with a free-kick cleverly struck beneath the Cardiff wall, the outcome of this tie was never in doubt. Cardiff barely threatened Claudio Bravo in the City goal, with the exception of a 35-yard strike by Junior Hoilett that the Chile international almost fumbled into his own net.
The biggest challenge for Guardiola's players was to avoid serious injury at the hands of their opponents, with Cardiff subjecting City to numerous overzealous tackles. The worst of them, by Joe Bennett on Leroy Sane, resulted in the official Germany Twitter feed urging Cardiff not to injure their players ahead of the World Cup. Ilkay Gundogan also had to receive lengthy treatment after another robust challenge.
City held their nerve, though, and Sterling's 37th-minute header from Bernardo Silva's cross secured the win and turned the second half into little more than a glorified training exercise.
2. Is Guardiola taking risks with De Bruyne and Sterling?
Guardiola's approach to the domestic cup competitions is to be admired, with the Manchester City manager choosing strong teams even against lower league opposition. But this fourth-round tie on Sunday, City's 37th game in all competitions, was De Bruyne's 35th appearance of the season, with Raheem Sterling just behind the Belgium midfielder at 33 outings.
Guardiola chooses not to rotate his key players, but with City still on course for an unprecedented quadruple this season, is he taking a risk he cannot afford by using the likes of De Bruyne and Sterling so often? Both Manchester United and Liverpool have benefited from a midseason training break in Dubai this month, but while their rivals have been away in the sunshine, City have been playing (on average) a game every four days in recent weeks.
Champions League rivals such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG and Bayern Munich have all been able to recharge their batteries thanks to midwinter shutdowns in their respective leagues, but City have simply ploughed on through.
Guardiola could ease the burden on the likes of De Bruyne and Sterling by resting them in cup ties such as Sunday's win, although the City boss will argue that their first-half goals prove how important they are to his team. But if City are still pushing for all major trophies in the spring, their winter workload could come back to haunt them.
Fixtures will begin to pile up and fresher opponents could take advantage, so it will be interesting to see if, or when, Guardiola chooses to lighten the load for some of his players.
3. More VAR or less VAR?
It has been a mixed weekend for the VAR system in the FA Cup. Saturday saw three big incidents decided by VAR during the Liverpool-West Brom tie at Anfield, with referee Craig Pawson referring to the system before making a final decision on two offsides and a penalty appeal.
Pawson got it right with each decision, but the time taken to get it right was the big issue, as was the growing problem of players and fans calling for VAR at every opportunity.
There are clearly teething problems with the system, which is why it is being trialled in England during selected cup ties. But for this game, there was no VAR on hand to which referee Lee Mason could refer at the Cardiff City Stadium and, surprise surprise, the fixture threw up a controversial incident that the system would have quickly resolved.
Bernardo Silva's 28th-minute strike from the edge of the penalty area looked to have given Man City a second goal, but the linesman's flag forced it to be ruled out following consultation with Mason. Television replays showed Leroy Sane blocking goalkeeper Neil Etheridge's view as Silva shot toward goal, but the City winger was marginally onside. The goal should have stood.
It is impossible for the match officials to get everything right, especially with just one view using the naked eye, so VAR is clearly a good thing if used correctly. But failure to roll out VAR for all of this weekend's FA Cup ties makes it a two-tier competition, with seemingly different rules for different teams.
For the sake of consistency, it should be used on all ties beyond the third round, or not used at all.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_