SPORTS DESK : 23 APRIL, 2023, 11:51 PM
Riyad Mahrez fired Manchester City into the FA Cup final as the Algerian’s hat-trick sealed a 3-0 win against Sheffield United at Wembley on Saturday.
Mahrez’s superb display dispatched the Championship underdogs, ensuring City ended their run of three successive FA Cup semi-final defeats.
The 32-year-old shattered United’s resistence with a penalty late in the first half and completed his treble with two clinical finishes after the interval.
City’s opponents in the Wembley final on June 3 will be the winners of Sunday’s semi-final between Manchester United and Brighton.
Pep Guardiola’s side are back in the final for the first time since 2019, when they won the FA Cup for the only time in the Spaniard’s reign.
They are the first team to reach the final without conceding a single goal since Everton in 1966.
“It is the fourth season in a row we are in the semi-finals. We could not win in the past but today we performed,” Guardiola said.
“We cannot forget we were in Munich three days ago. It could be hard. We had to perform well and we did it. All the guys who came in were perfect.
“I’m really happy for the club to be back in the final after many years.”
On Mahrez’s match-winning contribution, Guardiola added: “Riyad is grumpy with me all the time when he doesn’t play. He makes me notice.
“When he plays, he is there, that is most important. He is a big-stage player. I’m so satisfied for Riyad.”
City have won 11 of their last 12 games in all competitions and remain on course to win a memorable treble as they chase Arsenal in the Premier League and face a Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.
“We are far away,” Guardiola of the treble. “But after many years, winning so many titles, still we are here one more year in the latter stages of the big competitions.
“The mentality of the club, not just the players, is there. This is why I like to be at this club.”
Second placed City received a welcome boost on Friday when Premier League leaders Arsenal were held to a 3-3 draw by bottom of the table Southampton.
That result left the champions five points behind Arsenal, but with two games in hand ahead of their crucial clash against the Gunners in Manchester on Wednesday.
– Mahrez stars –
With the Arsenal match in mind, Guardiola rested Kevin De Bruyne, John Stones, Ruben Dias and Phil Foden among six changes from the side that drew at Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final second leg on Wednesday.
Although City are in peak form and United are one win away from promotion back to the Premier League, there were a surprising number of empty seats in the 69,603 crowd.
United fans briefly raised the decibel levels when Iliman Ndiaye wasted a golden opportunity inside two minutes, shooting weakly at Stefan Ortega from close-range.
Ndiaye fired into the side-netting moments later as City’s much-changed line-up struggled to gel.
Guardiola’s men monopolised around 80 percent of the possession from that point.
They finally made the breakthrough in the 43rd minute when United were unable to clear a free-kick, prompting Daniel Jebbison to concede a needless penalty with a panicked hack on Bernardo Silva.
Mahrez did the rest, calmly sending Wes Foderingham the wrong way from the spot.
With United unable to stem the tide, Mahrez effectively settled the tie with a solo effort in the 61st minute.
Mahrez robbed Max Lowe before embarking on an incisive surge that parted the red sea of Blades defenders, who bizarrely opted not to tackle the winger as he stroked a cool finish beyond Foderingham
It was a memorable day for Mahrez and he completed his treble in the 66th minute.
Jack Grealish’s cross reached Mahrez and he guided a low left-footed strike past Foderingham from 10 yards.
That was the signal for Guardiola to substitute Erling Haaland as City’s thoughts turned to their summit meeting with Arsenal.
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