Pep Guardiola’s relentless squad have one foot in the Carabao Cup final after a remarkable 9-0 semi-final first-leg win. Gabriel Jesus, superb throughout, scored four, with Kevin De Bruyne, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Phil Foden, Kyle Walker and Riyad Mahrez adding to Burton’s pain. City, surely, will contest the final at Wembley at the end of February after recording the largest ever margin of victory in the semi-finals of an English cup competition and our biggest win since 1987.
Long before the end, it was almost impossible not to feel a certain amount of sympathy for the players of Burton Albion. They had desperately wanted to cherish the memories of this Carabao Cup semi-final and maybe, in time, they will. Not here, though. Not with Manchester City’s crowd calling for a 10th goal and the players assembled by Pep Guardiola swatting aside their opponents as if dealing with little more than a bothersome fly.
Maybe amid the demolition job there was even a touch of empathy from the people responsible for overseeing the VAR arrangements. City might, after all, have finished with double figures but for the officials surveying the video at 4-0 and deciding, inexplicably, that Ben Turner did not foul Gabriel Jesus. It was, in fact, a clear penalty and Jesus was denied the chance to score a first-half hat-trick.
Ultimately, though, that was only a minor detail from a lopsided match in which City racked up a record semi-final win and Burton were made to look what they are: a team ninth in League One, closer in points to the relegation places than the play-off positions.
Jesus ended up with four goals and City have scored 16 times in their last two games. The only surprise was that the Premier League champions, 9-0 ahead after 84 minutes, stopped there against the team who are 51 places – or a million light years – below them in the league ladder.
By that stage those of us in the press box were flicking through the history books to check whether City might be on course for a record victory. As it was, they still had some way to go before emulating the 12-0 scoreline inflicted on Liverpool Stanley in 1890. Yet it was their most comprehensive victory of the Abu Dhabi era – and the biggest since David White, Paul Stewart and Tony Adcock all scored hat-tricks in the 10-1 thrashing of Huddersfield in 1987.
As Nigel Clough pointed out, nobody should be too surprised. To put it in perspective, Burton’s opponents 10 years ago this week were Salisbury City, in the second round of the FA Trophy, watched by a crowd of 1,472. Their squad has been assembled for £700,000 and their top earner, Liam Boyce, is on £3,000 a week – roughly one hundredth of what Kevin de Bruyne, scorer of the first goal, rakes in. Clough had described it as hoping for a miracle and, from City’s perspective, the equivalent of a bye. And, sadly for Burton, it turned out he was right.
“We will never be here again,” Clough said. “I hate losing 9-0, it’s not nice but with what they had on the pitch it’s nothing more than I expected. They don’t just beat you, they annihilate you.”
Some of the players in yellow had not even touched the ball when David Silva clipped a cross into the penalty area for De Bruyne to start the rout. He found the net with a rare header and, after that, the match became an exercise in damage limitation for Clough’s team. In truth, it probably already was.
By half-time, Burton were four down, the second leg was already a formality and Guardiola was on the way to equalling his record win as a manager: a 9-0 win for Barcelona against Hospitalet in 2011. What might have happened if Marcus Myers-Harness, the scorer of a hat-trick against Rochdale at the weekend, had not passed up a golden opportunity to equalise in the 11th minute? Well, City would probably still have scored nine. They were in that kind of mood and still relentlessly pouring forward when the final whistle spared Burton any more punishment.
Four of the second-half goals came in the space of 12 minutes. Three before half-time were delivered in seven minutes. Yes, the opposition came from League One but the ruthlessness of Guardiola’s team was still something to behold once Jesus made it 2-0 with a close-range header on the half-hour mark.
Burton suddenly looked very lost. Jesus added his second with a left-footed finish from Silva’s pass and soon afterwards Oleksandr Zinchenko’s swirling shot, from an angle from which most people might have anticipated a cross, soared over Bradley Collins, Burton’s goalkeeper, for the game’s outstanding goal.
Jesus completed his hat-trick with a fine leap to convert a Riyad Mahrez cross and his fourth goal was a neatly clipped finish from Leroy Sané’s low delivery. In between, the substitute Phil Foden had made it six just a few minutes after replacing De Bruyne. Again, Jesus was prominently involved and, when the Brazilian’s shot was blocked, Foden was following up to direct the loose ball into the net.
Kyle Walker was next to get in on the act after another brilliantly incisive exchange of passes and, at 8-0, it was intriguing to see whether Guardiola’s players might ease off in the last 20 minutes. Not a chance. The pressure on Burton’s goal was near-unremitting. Mahrez prodded in the ninth and that, thankfully for Burton, was that.