Pep Guardiola’s gamble backfires and Wigan complete unlikely FA Cup hat-trick | Paul Wilson

Pep Guardiola’s gamble backfires and Wigan complete FA Cup hat-trick

City’s manager fails to learn from Tottenham’s experience at Rochdale and his weakened team paid a hefty price

Manchester City had already done their bit for the romance of the FA Cup by losing to Wigan twice in the last few years, first in the 2013 final and then in the quarters a year later. Incredibly this hectic night[13] might eclipse both those upsets.

The chances of the underdogs completing a hat-trick looked slim with two divisions separating the sides and City practically crowned champions already, though where there is Claudio Bravo in goal there is always hope and Pep Guardiola sportingly offered Wigan further encouragement by starting with Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker on the bench.

This was a risky strategy, given that Mauricio Pochettino probably now regrets not giving Harry Kane and Dele Alli a few more game minutes at Rochdale, especially as Wigan are at the opposite end of League One to the team that held Tottenham[14]. Sure enough, without De Bruyne the visitors began hesitantly, one could even say nervously. Sergio Agüero put his first chance over the bar from a position where one would have backed him to score. A poor Bravo clearance gave Wigan their first scoring opportunity, although the goalkeeper did recover to deny Gary Roberts. David Silva and Leroy Sané kept faith with the way they normally play, diligently sticking to their short passing game on the left, but Wigan simply stood up to them and more often than not came away with the ball. Towards the end of the first half Sané was even straying offside in his frustration and Fernandinho, when he saw a glimpse of goal, skied his shot embarrassingly.

Could this really be the City juggernaut that has been crushing everything in its path this season? Were Wigan about to prove the unlikely obstacle to success on four fronts? Was Guardiola going to have to send on De Bruyne sooner rather than later to rescue the situation? All these questions would have enlivened the half-time conversations even before Fabian Delph raised the stakes further with his dismissal on the stroke of the interval. The left-back might have been slightly unlucky. Anthony Taylor had a yellow card out at first and appeared to be swayed by the reaction of the crowd or a message from his fellow officials, but there was no doubt his challenge was risky and it helped even out Wigan’s own bad luck in losing Nick Powell to injury.

Guardiola did not see it quite that way. The City manager was still furious as the teams left the pitch at half-time, though what his team needed to do for the remainder of the game was keep a collective cool head. They also needed De Bruyne, who came on after an hour and immediately made City more purposeful. His first cross into the box was a more searching one than anyone else had managed all evening.

It was noticeable how quickly his team-mates began to look for him and, with the Belgian on the pitch, the Wigan goal was suddenly under siege, numerical disadvantage or not. Yet just as City were beginning to look like themselves, even with 10 men, they sent too many players forward and Will Grigg’s finishing ability completed a classic counterattack.

Good as De Bruyne was in his half-hour, City will be left wondering for the rest of the season whether they might have won this match with him on from the start. No one likes to be called a one-man team, and City are certainly not, though they may have come to rely on De Bruyne more than they realise.

City should know better than most that Wigan cannot be underestimated. Or, as the home fans were chanting joyfully in the second half before unwisely introducing a sour note to a memorable occasion with a pitch invasion: “We’ve messed up your season.” Obviously they did not use the word messed.

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