Man City see off Bristol challenge, reach first final under Pep Guardiola
BRISTOL, England -- Three thoughts from Ashton Gate where Manchester City defeated Bristol City 3-2 to advance to the Carabao Cup final at Wembley.
1. City near glory under Guardiola
Pep Guardiola secured a first final appearance as Manchester City boss as his club survived a tricky second leg at Championship side Bristol City.
It took until the 43rd minute for Leroy Sane to finally settle the nerves against a team that had already beaten four Premier League sides in the competition -- including Manchester United in the previous round.
And four minutes after the restart, Kevin De Bruyne supplied his usual assist for Sergio Aguero as they looked like they had destroyed Bristol City's hopes of becoming the first second-tier club to win the League Cup since Sheffield Wednesday in 1991.
Marlon Pack pulled a goal back with a smart header in the 64th minute before Aden Flint's equaliser deep in injury-time set up a tense finish. But City responded by going up the other end and adding a winner on the night through De Bruyne with the final kick of the game.
With only a single-goal advantage following their 2-1 win in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium, Guardiola took no chances naming an extremely strong lineup. He made just two changes from the side that maintained City's 12-point lead at the top of the Premier League on Saturday with a win over Newcastle United -- Claudio Bravo recalled after his penalty shootout heroics in the previous two rounds.
It meant it was business as usual with City dominating possession in the first half -- although their aim was strangely off-target until the opening goal.
Aguero hit the post with a skewed cross while Luke Steele palmed away a low David Silva shot. But Sane and Aguero finally struck either side of half-time to put Guardiola in striking distance of his first trophy with City. While there is talk of City claiming an incredible quadruple, that first cup won't be easy with either Chelsea or Arsenal coming up at Wembley.
Guardiola says winning everything is impossible. He wants that first trophy and has ensured he will get his first opportunity in a months' time.
2. Bernardo Silva shines
Bernardo Silva hasn't made the impact perhaps many expected following his summer move from French champions Monaco, but his performance against Bristol City showed that he now may be getting to grips with life in England.
The Portuguese playmaker impressed throughout and made the crucial impact by making Sane's opening goal, which effectively killed off the tie.
Silva and Kyle Walker teamed up to charge down a Bristol City clearance and as Hordur Bjorgvin Magnusson tried to shepherd the ball out of play, Silva battled his way to keep the ball in and pulled it back for Sane to strike.
It was a big moment for the 23-year-old, who has been restricted to mostly cameo appearances in the Premier League and Champions League since his arrival.
That has been partly down to the exquisite form of De Bruyne and Silva, who play in his preferred attacking midfielder role, while Raheem Sterling has stepped up to become indispensable on the right wing.
Silva has also not quite reached the form that made him such a pivotal figure at Monaco. But he can take inspiration from Sane, who also took time to adjust to the Premier League following his move from Schalke last season before beginning to show his true qualities in the second half of the season -- and he hasn't looked back since.
3. Bristol shot down
Manchester City proved a bridge too far for Bristol City but Lee Johnson may have some small regrets about his defensive approach to the second leg.
It wasn't an easy call given the awkward result from the first leg - a single-goal deficit making it a difficult decision on whether to stick or twist.
Johnson opted to try to keep it tight for as long as possible but it was always a risky strategy against the top scorers in the Premier League and it contradicted the way they took the game to City in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium when they rattled Guardiola's side.
That plan was finally ripped apart when Sane at last gave the visitors a two-goal advantage in the tie in the 43rd minute.
At the time, Bristol had just 27 percent and a single effort on goal -- Flint's looping header from a Magnusson long throw, which was comfortably collected by Claudio Bravo.
They brought on striker Famara Diedhou at half-time and showed they have attacking quality when Pack headed in but by then the tie was effectively over. Bristol added one late to make things interesting for a moment but City responded to kill off Bristol's cup dream.
Bristol have been brilliant on their run to the semifinals knocking out four Premier League sides including Manchester United in the previous round.
It was always going to be a tough ask to make the Premier League leaders the next name on that list.
But they were fearless in their victory over Jose Mourinho's side in the quarterfinals and there may be some regret that they didn't go all out in front of a full house to make a first final appearance in 109 years.
The focus will now switch to the chase for a place in the Premier League and on their thrilling Carabao Cup run, they've shown enough quality to give it a good go if they make it.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.