Man City showcase youth, survive again to reach Carabao Cup semis
LEICESTER, England -- Three thoughts from the King Power Stadium as Manchester City outlast Leicester 1(4)-1(3) on penalties in the Carabao Cup.
1. Bravo, City survive...again
Claudio Bravo was the penalty shootout hero again as Manchester City's fight for success on four fronts continues. The Chilean goalkeeper has not had the easiest of times since Pep Guardiola brought him to the Etihad Stadium to replace the popular Joe Hart and he is now second choice following the arrival of Ederson.
But he's been given his chance in the cup competitions and responded with three penalty saves in the previous round's shootout victory over Championship side Wolverhampton Wanderers. This time he stopped Riyad Mahrez and dashed ecstatically over to the away fans to celebrate, enjoying a warm embrace from the equally delirious Guardiola afterwards.
Jamie Vardy had already struck the outside of the post with his penalty and Bravo's save ensured City's place in the last-four. He could have saved himself an extra 30 minutes' work had he saved Vardy's stoppage-time penalty but he probably won't mind that in the end.
City were 1-0 ahead in the 96th minute when referee Bobby Madley awarded a controversial penalty for Kyle Walker's challenge on Demarai Gray. Leicester had started the game without Wilfred Ndidi, who was banned after a second yellow card for diving, and Gray may now be nervously awaiting a call from the Football Association after what appeared to be a soft dive.
City had started where they left off after moving onto a record-breaking 16 straight victories in the Premier League. Despite plenty of changes, they maintain the Pep Guardiola philosophy, controlling possession with neat passing and good movement.
Bernardo Silva had a good effort well-saved by Ben Hamer and Ilkay Gundogan had a shot cleared off the line before the breakthrough in the 26th minute. Gundogan raced clear of the Leciester defence and played a neat ball into Silva, who finished sharply under the on-rushing Hamer.
It was a good moment for the players who've been on the periphery in what has been so far an excellent season for City. Gundogan, who suffered a horrendous cruciate knee ligament injury just over a year ago, was back to his best against Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend and was happy to be one of the more senior figures in a youthful City side.
As was Silva, who has shown glimpses of his brilliant Monaco form since his £43 million move in the summer but has struggled to secure a regular starting place -- partly because of the brilliant form of City's attack. But Leicester fought back after the introduction of Mahrez and Vardy and finally found an equaliser deep in stoppage time.
Both sides had chances to win it in extra time but neither probably deserved to and it was left to a shootout where City have excelled in recent times -- winning their last four.
2. Time for the youngsters
The games are racking up for Pep Guardiola with a busy Christmas schedule coming up and the Carabao Cup is possibly the least of his concerns.
He won't want any slip-ups with four games in the next fortnight and the possibility of having the Premier League wrapped up by the time the Champions League kicks off in March.
That's why he went with an extremely young squad with Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Nicolas Otamendi, Raheem Sterling and David Silva all left behind in Manchester.
Teenagers Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz are seen as the biggest prospects of the club's Academy and have been part of the first-team squad all season so it was no surprise to see them given starts. But it was young defenders Tosin Adarabioyo and Oleksandr Zinchenko, who perhaps emerged as the most impressive performers on a testing night.
Manchester-born centre-back Adarabioyo barely put a foot wrong up against former teammate Kelechi Iheanacho and then became the senior partner of a raw central defensive pairing after Eliaquim Mangala went off with a nasty nose injury. He also coped well with the pace of substitute Vardy in a difficult hour.
Zinchenko, making just his second start -- and in an unfavoured left-back position was even better. He got forward in support of left winger Gabriel Jesus well, looked comfortable with the ball at his feet and defended -- although he suffered one chastening experience by the skilful Mahrez.
Guardiola even threw on Lukas Nmecha and Tom Dele-Bashiru for their first-team debuts, although he was surprised to see the referee add on extra minutes and they were then given a further 30 minutes to show what they can do after Leicester equalised.
3. Foxes in the hunt
While Guardiola has good reasons to rest his key players -- with the potential for success in four competitions -- it was strange to see Claude Puel start without so many of his regular first team.
The Foxes are relatively safe in the Premier League in eighth place -- 11 points clear of the drop zone and playing well. Yet the Frenchman decided to leave out Vardy, Mahrez, Kasper Schmeichel and Gray despite the possibility of a first appearance in a major final for 17 years.
Leciester have been in good form since Puel took over and Saturday's defeat to Crystal Palace was just the second he has suffered while in charge.
The other was against a brilliant City team and that was perhaps at the back of his mind with his team starting with a defensive set-up and they looked frightened to challenge Guardiola's side.
City's youthful side had 80 percent possession in the opening 25 minutes and that dominance resulted in the opener in the 26th minute.
Puel finally threw on Vardy and Mahrez 12 minutes into the second half and almost immediately his side had pace and purpose.
They unsettled City's passing rhythm and got the noisy King Power Stadium fans behind their side.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.