Riyad Mahrez hat trick powers Man City past Sheff United into FA Cup final

0
126

LONDON: In this kind of mood, it will take something special to halt Manchester City’s pursuit of the treble.

Just days after Pep Guardiola’s team advanced to the Champions League semifinals, a place in the FA Cup final was secured by beating Sheffield United 3-0 at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, with Riyad Mahrez scoring a hat trick.

City can also seize control of the English Premier League title race on Wednesday in a showdown with leader Arsenal.

Nothing has been won yet, but City’s near-irresistible form is driving them toward the history books as their three-pronged trophy challenge shows no sign of stopping.

Manchester United are the only English team to have won the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup in one season, in 1999. It’s a point of pride for United and their fans, a fact not lost on Guardiola.

“They don’t have to be scared (we will emulate them),” he joked. “We are neighbors, neighbors are always nice to each other. I said yesterday we are far away.”

United could yet have a say in City’s potential trophy haul. Erik ten Hag’s team plays Brighton in the second FA Cup semifinal on Sunday, with the chance to set up an all-Manchester final in June.

City also face the significant test of trying to navigate a way past 14-time winners Real Madrid in the last four of the Champions League.

But the defending Premier League champion are in ominous form having extended their unbeaten run to 16 games with a routine win against Sheffield.

Any chance of a historic FA Cup shock was effectively ended in the 43rd minute when Mahrez struck from the penalty spot after Daniel Jebbison fouled Bernardo Silva in the box.

Mahrez doubled City’s lead in the 61st when running straight through the heart of Sheffield’s defense and firing past Wes Foderingham.

The third came five minutes later when turning home Jack Grealish’s pass.

City didn’t need to be at its devastating best, with leading scorer Erling Haaland failing to add to his 48 goals this season in a subdued performance.

It was down to Mahrez, who didn’t play in either leg of the Champions League quarterfinals against Bayern Munich, to do the damage.

“He is always grumpy with me when he doesn’t play. He makes me notice how grumpy he feels,” Guardiola said. “He is an exceptional player on the big stage.”

City’s result in a sixth FA Cup semifinal in seven seasons ended a sequence of three straight losses at this stage.

LEICESTER FINALLY WIN

A first win in 11 games lifted Leicester out of the relegation zone. Despite going behind to a Matheus Cunha goal, Kelechi Iheanacho and Timothy Castagne struck as the Foxes beat Wolverhampton 2-1 at King Power Stadium to move them out of the bottom three on goal difference.

It was a good start for new manager Dean Smith in his first home game in charge since replacing the fired Brendan Rodgers.

That meant Everton dropped to 18th, despite a creditable 0-0 draw at in-form Crystal Palace that highlighted the Merseyside club’s struggles in front of goal.

The Toffees have scored only 24 times, lowest in the league.

LEEDS LOSE AGAIN

While Leeds avoided a third straight rout, losing to Fulham 2-1 was another blow to the Yorkshire club’s battle to avoid the drop.

Having conceded 11 goals in it last two games — losing 5-1 to Palace and 6-1 to Liverpool — this was certainly an improvement for Javi Gracia’s team, but wins are increasingly hard to come by.

Harry Wilson and Andreas Pereira put Fulham two up before an own goal from Joao Palhinha.

Tuesday’s home game against Leicester could be absolutely crucial to both teams’ hopes of survival.

LIVERPOOL FINDING FORM

Jurgen Klopp recorded his 100th league win at Anfield after Liverpool beat Nottingham Forest 3-2.

But perhaps more importantly, Liverpool’s second win in succession pointed to a long-awaited upturn in form in an inconsistent campaign.

Relegation-threatened Forest twice came back before Mohamed Salah’s winner in the 70th.

Diogo Jota put Liverpool in front twice in the second half, and Forest responded through Neco Williams and Morgan Gibbs-White.

“We gave away two goals too easy and in a game like this you have to control possession,” Klopp said. “You don’t have to force it and sometimes we forced it.”

Defeat increased the pressure on Forest manager Steve Cooper in an 11-game winless run.

“Nobody will be happy coming out of here because we have lost a football match and it adds to the run,” he said. “It doesn’t look favorable at all, we know that. But we must take some heart from the spirit and mentality in one of the hardest away games in Europe, never mind the Premier League.”

BRENTFORD HOLD VILLA

Aston Villa’s five-game winning streak was halted in a 1-1 draw at Brentford.

The Midlands club sparked hopes of an unlikely push for the top four after winning seven of its last eight games before Saturday. But Ivan Toney’s goal put Brentford on the brink victory before Douglas Luiz struck in the 87th to earn a draw for Villa.

“We can play better and we have to demand to play better for the next matches,” Villa manager Unai Emery said.