Aguero's late winner spares Man City's blushes vs. Bristol City
MANCHESTER, England -- Three thoughts on Manchester City's 2-1 win vs. Bristol City in the Carabao Cup semifinal first leg.
1. Narrow advantage for Guardiola and Co.
Manchester City haven't been beaten by an English side for nearly 10 months and few have come closer than Championship side Bristol City managed on Tuesday.
Pep Guardiola warned his side to be careful before the game because "something special was happening at Bristol" and the Championship club almost had another memorable moment on their glorious cup run at the Etihad Stadium.
Lee Johnson's side knocked out Manchester United in the previous round and looked set for another stunning shock when Bobby Reid put them ahead from the penalty spot in the 44th minute. City levelled 11 minutes after the break through Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero headed an injury-time winner, but the tie is far from over ahead of the second leg in two weeks' time.
Guardiola's side, 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League and with 14 wins from 16 games on the road, will be overwhelming favourites but, if Bristol City can replicate the incredible performance that took care of Jose Mourinho's men, they could yet pull off their biggest upset.
Guardiola left many of his first-team regulars on the bench, rewarding players such as Claudio Bravo, Oleksander Zinchenko, Eliaquim Mangala and Bernardo Silva, who had pulled Man City through to last four, with another start.
Raheem Sterling, Ilkay Gundogan and Leroy Sane all went close with chances but, at the other end Bravo made a decent save from Joe Bryan as Bristol City showed they were not going to be intimidated and looked to get forward whenever there was a possibility.
The opening goal came just before half-time when, after Mangala lost possession, Reid drew a loose challenge from John Stones, then scored from the spot. Sterling almost equalised seconds later but Aden Flint showed his commitment to the cause by brilliantly clearing off his line.
The second half was more like what home fans are used to seeing as Guardiola's side pushed Bristol City back for long periods. De Bruyne levelled with an emphatic finish but looked like a winner wouldn't come when he, Sane and Gundogan all wasted golden chances.
But Aguero came off the bench to finish from Silva's cross and deliver late heartbreak for the visiting side. Johnson's players, though, can take enough from the defeat to maintain that the tie is far from over.
2. Strike shortage could be a concern
Man City's performances in the Carabao Cup this season have underlined Guardiola's belief that he is short of an attacker; three previous rounds had brought just three goals over five-and-a-half hours and included a goalless draw at home to Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers.
With Gabriel Jesus ruled out for around six weeks, Guardiola opted to leave Aguero on the bench after he featured in Saturday's FA Cup victory over Burnley and five days ahead of the Premier League trip to Liverpool.
Sterling started in an unfamiliar striker role and worked hard hurrying the Bristol City defenders. But he showed inexperience when missing a couple of good opportunities to link up with his wide men, who were in better positions.
The England international switched with Silva but City still looked short of that central focus until Aguero was introduced with 20 minutes remaining.
With no respite in a busy schedule, Guardiola cannot rely on the club's record scorer to play every game. If City and Arsenal are haggling over a price for Alexis Sanchez, this latest game may prompt them the purse strings to be loosened.
3. Bristol City can keep dreaming
It could easily be argued that the Carabao Cup is proving a distraction from Johnson's bigger target of reaching the Premier League but there's no doubt that their fans are enjoying the ride. Around 7,000 made the seven-hour round trip and you would be hard-pressed to find one that did it in hope more than expectation.
That's despite already knocking out Premier League sides Watford, Stoke City, Crystal Palace and, most notably, Manchester United on their route to the semifinal. It certainly suggests they won't struggle if they reach the top tier for the first time 1979.
Johnson has his side extremely well-drilled; they got into shape quickly without the ball and broke down City's attacks with sheer weight of numbers, before getting forward quickly and with purpose when the opportunities arrive.
Their goal came from courageous high pressing that forced Mangala into an error and Stones into a reckless challenge. Reid showed no fear by coolly slotting home the spot kick.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.