Manchester City began their defence of the Carabao Cup with a convincing victory at Deepdale seeing off a valiant Preston North End 3-0.
Preston came into the game unbeaten in five on home soil but first-half goals from Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus followed by a Ryan Ledson own goal proved sufficient in securing a fourth-round place for the back-to-back winners.
The Premier League champions fielded a centre-back pairing with a combined age of 35 as Taylor Harwood-Bellis (17) made his first start for his boyhood club alongside 18-year-old Eric Garcia. The teenage duo seemed assured together and will no doubt have impressed Pep Guardiola still in search for a solution to his defensive crisis.
Story of the match
The home side was backed by a raucous crowd and the Preston faithful were almost sent into raptures within the opening minute. Manchester United academy graduate Josh Harrop was at the back post but couldn’t connect with Darnell Fisher’s wicked cross to give his side the lead.
City demolished a woeful Watford 8-0 at the weekend but their hosts weren’t fazed and looked up for the challenge. Preston were physical and got stuck into their technically superior opponents who began to get a foothold in the game.
From the outset, it was clear that right-back Fisher was in for a torrid time up against the unrivalled Raheem Sterling. The winger continuously swanned inside dancing past Fisher and centre-back Jordan Storey and was causing a huge problem in the Lilywhites defence.
Approaching the 20th minute the England international received the ball near the half-way line, turned and drove towards goal scurrying past Fisher once again before reaching the box and maintaining his composure to fire a deflected effort into the net past a stranded Connor Ripley.
Moments later Gabriel Jesus thought he’d doubled the visitor's advantage when he latched onto the end of a low David Silva cross to slot home but was denied by the offside flag, much to the bemusement of the striker.
With a trip to Everton and a UEFA Champions League dual with Dinamo Zagreb in the coming week, a degree of rotation was expected.
Guardiola made nine changes to the team who dismantled Watford but still fielded a strong line-up to take on Preston currently sitting third in the Championship and the quality began to tell.
Sterling again proved a thorn in the side of Alex Neil’s men as he played Jesus through for the Brazilian to rifle home left-footed through the legs of Ripley with 35 minutes on the clock. It’s now 24 goals for the 22-year-old in just 35 appearances in 2019 starting on just 16 occasions in that time.
Clinical City would pounce again a few minutes later as Jesus spread the ball wide for Sterling to send David Silva bearing down on goal. The Spaniard looked up and his cross was diverted in off the studs of Ryan Ledson for an own goal.
Preston striker Tom Barkhuizen said in the build-up that him and his teammates would “give everything we’ve got” and the second-tier outfit managed to cause City’s youthful backline problems. The strength and direct running of frontmen Brad Potts, Harrop and Barkhuizen gave the City defence something to think about but Claudio Bravo in the Blue’s net was rarely troubled and commanded his area astutely.
At half-time, Neil must have feared that the floodgates could open but the domestic treble winners from last season couldn’t add to their lead. The best chance after the interval fell to Garcia who should have made it four but failed to meet a David Silva cutback. Phil Foden struck the crossbar after another dazzling run from Sterling.
Meanwhile, down the other end, the hosts too hit the woodwork. Harrop was the width of the post away from grabbing a consolation as his effort cannoned harmlessly back into open play.
A low-key second half saw the introduction of Benjamin Mendy who gained some valuable minutes, Riyad Mahrez replaced the scintillating Sterling and future star Adrian Bernarbe was brought on for the present metronome David Silva.
This tie showcased the strength-in-depth at Guardiola’s disposal and should be a warning to the rest of the teams in the country as the Citizens cruised to a 13th straight League Cup tie victory.
Takeaways from the game
Exuberant and Flamboyant
With the injuries to John Stones and Aymeric Laporte coming after the departure of Vincent Kompany a huge gap has been left in the centre of the City defence. Nicolas Otamendi’s dismal display away at Norwich will have left Pep scratching his head but what he seen from his youngsters Harwood-Bellis and Garcia will encourage the coach.
The duo was composed on the ground and strong in the air, assured in their tackling and vitally vocal in the backline keeping their full-backs in sync. Time will tell if one of the teenagers are to partner Fernandinho this Saturday against Everton.
Darnell Fisher will be glad he doesn’t have to face wingers the calibre of Raheem Sterling week in, week out in the Championship.
The full-back was relentlessly tormented by a red-hot Sterling playing out of his skin for the last 18 months if not longer. Six goals in six appearances for the 24-year-old who continues to improve under the tutelage of Guardiola.
He Keeps on Scoring
Jesus can count himself unfortunate that such a talented talisman keeps him out of the City team on a regular basis.
Sergio Aguero has long been the one the Blues have relied on but when the day comes for Jesus to take the plunge, he will be ready. He has three goals from three starts this season.