Riyad Mahrez double caps five-star Manchester City’s rout of Cardiff

Ben Fisher at Cardiff City Stadium on 22 September 2018

Manchester City laid on an attacking masterclass that extinguished any fears of a European hangover to blow away Cardiff in style with five magnificent goals, as they strolled to victory in south Wales. An imperious away performance left the hosts exasperated with Sergio Agüero opening the scoring on his 300th appearance for City before Riyad Mahrez’s double completed the rout, with his first goals for the club since a £60m summer switch coming after beautiful goals by Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gündogan.

As Neil Warnock said before kick-off, it was good news that his side have to play them only twice this season. On a dank afternoon this was a harrowing experience for Cardiff – an ordeal. By half-time, by which point City had established a three-goal lead, it was a case of damage limitation. Things could have been worse for Cardiff, too, with Joe Ralls fortunate to avoid a red card for a poor first-half challenge on Gündogan. Long before the final whistle, City stroked the ball around at will, safe in the knowledge they had sealed a 10th win in 12 Premier League matches and hoisted themselves up to second in the table.

“We were more dynamic,” Pep Guardiola said. “After not a good result in midweek [against Lyon], we responded again to the same level that we had in the past 12 or 13 months.

“We made a good performance, but after one or two goals, it was easy. At 0-3, you are relaxed and we were consistent. We didn’t suffer too much and created a good game.”

Warnock always knew the difficulty of the task at hand. The cost of the two starting lineups would remind him as much; Cardiff’s a paltry £25.9m compared with Guardiola’s team, worth £405.2m and counting. For Cardiff, revved up by a thumping pre-match playlist consisting of Metallica and Darude, the chasm in class was absent until City’s slick opener; Gündogan fed Silva, whose slide-rule pass found Agüero, with the striker firing into the bottom-left corner first time. It was the result of a sweeping counterattack, which stemmed from Ederson rolling the ball out to Gündogan after gathering a Cardiff corner.

As Agüero, one of three changes from the Lyon defeat on Wednesday, celebrated, an animated Guardiola pulled his centre-backs, Nicolás Otamendi and Aymeric Laporte, over towards the touchline for a pep talk in search of perfection.

Three minutes later, City had doubled their lead, with a short-corner routine between Gündogan and Leroy Sané teeing up the latter to flight an inviting cross in from the right. When it arrived into the box, Silva sent a looping backward header into the far corner. By this point, the champions were purring; Agüero had another effort deflected wide by Bruno Manga after Raheem Sterling danced his way to the byline, before Fernandinho drove wide.

The best was still to come though. Gündogan seized possession on the edge of the box and after a give-and-go with Sterling the midfielder emphatically arrowed the ball into the top-left corner. It was a special goal, one that had even home supporters gasping in awe and lifted the City bench off their feet.

The hosts were powerless as City turned on the style. Cardiff’s frustration spilled over just before the interval with Ralls lucky to return for the second half. Studs showing, the midfielder jabbed Gündogan with his left boot, but his knee-high challenge earned him only a booking.

In cruise control, Guardiola summoned Mahrez, and then Phil Foden, from the bench, after the former had added City’s fourth, with the effervescent Gündogan again influential. Sterling slid the midfielder in down the left channel, and he pinged a crisp ball across the box for Mahrez to slot home. The winger then curled another beyond Neil Etheridge after Manga gifted him the ball inside the box.

In the end, the scoreline could have been anything the visitors wanted it to be, with Sané’s header kissing the post and Sterling forcing Etheridge to palm over.

“It’s a disappointment, but it’s not going to define our season,” Warnock said. “It’s just going to knock our chins a bit and the lads have got to get on with it again next week against Burnley.”

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