Mahrez’s treble fires Man City into FA Cup final

Riyad Mahrez fired Manchester City into the FA Cup final as the Algerian’s hat-trick sealed a 3-0 win against Sheffield United at Wembley on Saturday.

Mahrez’s superb display dispatched the Championship underdogs, ensuring City ended their run of three successive FA Cup semi-final defeats.

The 32-year-old shattered United’s resistance with a penalty late in the first half and completed his treble with two clinical finishes after the interval.

City’s opponents in the Wembley final on June 3 will be the winners of Sunday’s semi-final between Manchester United and Brighton.

Pep Guardiola’s side are back in the final for the first time since 2019 when they won the FA Cup for the only time in the Spaniard’s reign.

They have reached the final without conceding a single goal in this season’s tournament.

City have won 11 of their last 12 games in all competitions and remain on course to win a memorable treble as they chase Arsenal in the Premier League and face a Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.

The English champions received a welcome boost on Friday when Premier League leaders Arsenal were held to a 3-3 draw by bottom-of-the-table Southampton.

That result left second-placed City five points behind Arsenal but with two games in hand ahead of their crucial clash against the Gunners in Manchester on Wednesday.

With the Arsenal match in mind, Guardiola made six changes from the side that drew at Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final second leg on Wednesday.

Ederson was replaced by Stefan Ortega in goal, while Ruben Dias, John Stones, Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden were left on the bench.

Although City are in peak form and United are one win away from promotion back to the Premier League, there were a surprising number of empty seats in the 69,603 crowd.

It was a reminder that the FA’s decision to play the semi-finals in London can be an expensive inconvenience to fans outside the capital.

Many would prefer a return to the days when Villa Park and Old Trafford were among a select group of club stadiums that regularly staged the semi-finals.

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– Mahrez stars –

The Wembley atmosphere was subdued for long periods, although United fans briefly raised the decibel levels during their side’s early flourish.

The Blades should have been ahead inside two minutes when Iliman Ndiaye wasted a golden opportunity, shooting weakly at Ortega from close range.

Ndiaye fired into the side-netting moments later as City’s much-changed line-up struggled to gel.

City eventually started to stir and Erling Haaland was denied a goal when his long-range rocket was disallowed for his foul just before the shot.

Guardiola’s men monopolised around 80 per cent of the possession from that point, threatening the opener with a Julian Alvarez curler that Wes Foderingham saved at full stretch.

They finally made the breakthrough in the 43rd minute when United were unable to clear a free-kick, prompting Daniel Jebbison to concede a needless penalty with a panicked hack on Bernardo Silva.

Mahrez did the rest, calmly sending Foderingham the wrong way from the spot.

With United unable to stem the tide, Mahrez effectively settled the tie with a solo effort in the 61st minute.

Mahrez robbed Max Lowe before embarking on an incisive surge that parted the red sea of Blades defenders, who bizarrely opted not to tackle the winger as he stroked a cool finish beyond Foderingham

It was a memorable day for Mahrez and he completed his treble in the 66th minute.

Jack Grealish’s cross reached Mahrez and he guided a low left-footed strike past Foderingham from 10 yards.

That was the signal for Guardiola to substitute Haaland as City’s thoughts turned to their summit meeting with Arsenal.

Source: AFP

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