Manchester City were made to work for their place in the EFL Cup fourth round but eventually overcame recently-relegated Bournemouth, courtesy of goals by one academy prospect at the very start of his journey to the top and another well on his way to stardom.
A routine victory appeared in order for a youthful and much-changed City side when the highly-rated Liam Delap – son of the former Stoke City midfielder Rory and a strong, clinical and prolific striker at youth level – opened the scoring with a fine debut goal. Whatever he goes on to achieve at this level, it will live long in his memory.
Bournemouth were not merely here to make up the numbers, though. Jason Tindall – the former assistant to Eddie Howe and now his successor – named a side peppered with Premier League experience and quickly drew level through Sam Surridge. The Championship side would go on to have chances against a slightly off-colour City but the brilliant Phil Foden’s goal a quarter-of-an-hour from time ultimately ensured that the holders would progress for a trip to Turf Moor to play Burnley next week.
Guardiola suggested that he would call on backup and academy players for this third round tie due to the demands of this season’s schedule and was as good as his word. Delap and Zack Steffen – a 25-year-old United States international goalkeeper who will deputise for Ederson this season – were the only debutants, but the likes of Tommy Doyle, Adrian Bernabé and Taylor Harwood-Bellis could hardly be described as experienced. You know it is a young side when Foden counts as one of its senior figures.
Even so, much of the pre-match hype was around Delap and whether he could mark his debut with a goal. It took him just 18 minutes. The through ball poked around the corner from Foden’s wand of a left foot was sublime and the 17-year-old provided a finish to match – first time, left-footed and across the goalkeeper, placed perfectly into the far, top right-hand corner.
It was precisely the sort of composed, cold-veined finishing which has led Delap to cause such a stir within City’s academy but neither he nor any of team-mates kicked on from there. Soon enough, they were pegged back. Just four minutes later, a piercing run through midfield by David Brooks – another product of City’s academy – sparked the move which led to Surridge’s equaliser, hit low and hard on the turn after Bernabé missed a tackle.
The evening would come to a sorry end for Bernabé shortly after when he was forced off on a stretcher with an apparent knee injury. It was horrific luck for the 19-year-old Spaniard, who appeared to be in the tears as he left the pitch. Guardiola offered some kind words in his ear as he was carried past the touchline but it appeared as though they did little to comfort the distraught youngster.
The Championship outfit – fourth in the second tier after an unbeaten start – were providing stiff and stubborn resistance. City only registered a handful of shots between the equaliser and half time, and at the start of the second half, Bournemouth began to create openings of their own. Brooks was a constant nuisance and instrumental once again, slipping Surridge through only for Steffen to rush off his goal-line and confidently clear the danger.
Enough was enough. Guardiola had hoped not to introduce either Kevin De Bruyne or Raheem Sterling before kick-off but one followed the other shortly after the hour mark. City’s play sharpened a touch but it was two other first-team squad members who combined to re-established their lead.
A one-two between Riyad Mahrez and Foden led to the Algerian striking against the post but Foden was quickest to react to rebound, sending the ball back towards goal while goalkeeper Mark Travers was still struggling to get up on his feet. It was a goal that Foden’s performance deserved and enough to keep City on course for their fourth consecutive EFL Cup triumph.