Manchester City reached their first final under Pep Guardiola as the Premier League leaders beat battling Bristol City in the Carabao Cup.
Already leading 2-1 from the first leg, goals from Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne at Ashton Gate ensured Manchester City’s place at Wembley on Sunday, 25 February.
They dominated the first half and Sane deservedly put the visitors in front shortly before the break, with his deflected shot bouncing in after Bernardo Silva had dispossessed Hordur Magnusson.
Manchester City looked to have all but killed the tie early in the second half when Aguero’s strike across goal rounded off a lethal counter attack.
The Championship team produced a rousing final 20 minutes to give Guardiola’s side a brief late scare, with Marlon Pack’s smart header and Aden Flint’s stoppage-time goal threatening for a moment to take the tie into extra time.
But De Bruyne’s calm finish with the final kick of the game denied Bristol City a creditable draw on the night and confirmed Manchester City’s place in the final where they will face either Arsenal or Chelsea, who play the second leg of their semi-final on Wednesday.
The Robins, meanwhile, will turn their attention to converting their current fifth place in the second tier into promotion – with their four previous victories over Premier League opposition in the Carabao Cup giving them a taste of what they hope is to come.
Guardiola has previously used this competition to rest and rotate a number of his star players, but he picked a near full-strength side for the second leg, making just two changes to the team that beat Newcastle in the Premier League on Sunday.
His selection was tribute to the way Bristol City had performed at the Etihad a fortnight ago, impressing many with their adventure and attacking intent.
There would be no such repeat at Ashton Gate, however, with the away side taking complete control almost from the very first whistle.
Aguero’s cross clipped the bar and David Silva’s low shot had to be palmed away even before Sane’s opener – and once Manchester City were able to add a ruthless streak to their overall dominance it was always going to be a big ask for the home team.
Despite the impressive late rally, culminating in makeshift striker Flint stabbing in for 2-2, the visitors were still more than good value for their victory across both legs.
They had 68% possession and finished Tuesday’s game with 28 shots on goal, scoring from three of the six they got on target.
Can Man City do the quadruple?
Guardiola is now just one game from winning his first silverware with Manchester City, having endured only the second barren season of his managerial career in 2016-17.
The 47-year-old Spaniard, who won 14 trophies in four years as Barcelona boss and a further seven in three years at Bayern Munich, is hoping to lead City to an unprecedented quadruple.
He has repeatedly played down his team’s chances of achieving that feat, yet they continue to fight strongly on all fronts – already 12 points clear in the Premier League, they have also reached the last 16 of the Champions League and the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Domestically, only Liverpool have found a way to beat them so far this season, meaning the one apparent remaining question mark is over whether they can translate their league and cup form into European competition.
If they are able to progress beyond FC Basel and into the quarter-finals of the Champions League, even at this early stage they may seldom have a better opportunity of sealing a clean sweep of league and cups.
A step too far for brave Bristol City
Lee Johnson and his players earned plenty of plaudits after their first-leg defeat, with Guardiola describing Bristol City as a “fantastic team” and lauding their style of play and attacking intent as “good for the show”.
Despite trailing on aggregate throughout the second leg, the fact they became only the second team since October to score twice in a domestic match against Manchester City spoke volumes of both their quality and spirit.
The Robins had already seen off top-flight sides Watford, Crystal Palace, Stoke City and famously Manchester United on their way to the last four – though two legs against the runaway Premier League leaders was always going to be a tall order.
Following a tentative opening period, during which they were pinned back for long spells, they looked much more of a threat with the half-time arrival of £5.3m summer signing Famara Diedhiou.
Head coach Johnson will now hope the return of Diedhiou, who has missed the past three months with a knee injury, can also inspire his side towards achieving the ultimate goal of securing top-flight football for the first time since 1980.
“I’m very proud, not just of the team, but of the club,” said Johnson.
“It was a fantastic run. The fact is, it has taken them two injury-time goals in both legs to beat us.
“We came close to a draw today. They are a top, top side, probably the best side I’ve seen live.”
What they said:
Bristol City boss Lee Johnson: “We came close to a draw. They are a top, top side, probably the best side I’ve seen live.
“They have so many players that are intricate and have class on the ball and sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say ‘they are a better side than us’.
“But the spirit we showed, we never gave in and we continued to try and attack and scored two goals and not many teams can score two goals against a side like that.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on Sky Sports: “We are so happy to be there, to reach this final. We played an amazing game until 2-0 and then we lost control, these type of games never end until the end.
“At 2-0 we knew it would be easier because they needed three or four goals but with one minute left it was 2-2 and anything could happen.
“It’s not for me, it’s for Manchester City, a club who are trying to reach another level. We try to keep going, the important thing for me is to be there.”
Bristol City resume their bid for promotion to the Premier League as they host QPR on Saturday, 27 January (15:00 GMT).