Thursday, July 25, 2024

Best of the EFL: Bristol City v Manchester United

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been providing you with some great trips down memory lane. From our Greatest Premier League teams to the Quarantine Quiz, there’s a lot of sporting action to pull out of the vault and relive in uncertain times.

To combat my boredom I’ve been watching a whole load of the greatest games played in the English Football League and League Cup in order to relive them and create this series, covering the greatest EFL games.

We’re going to kick off the series with one of the most entertaining League Cup matches in recent memory, which saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho travel down to Bristol to face off against a highflying Championship side in Lee Johnson’s Bristol City.


The two sides met at the Quarter Final stage of the competition, on a cold midweek night only a couple of days before Christmas in 2017. Bristol City were 3rd in the league and on a fantastic run under Lee Johnson, a manager who less than a year earlier was under an immense amount of pressure having lost 15 of 20 games in the previous season, and City only staying up by 3 points.

Johnson was backed by then-Chairman Steve Lansdown, father of the current chairman Jon, the following summer and with that, he turned around Bristol City’s fortunes to start the 2017/18 season. Signing the likes of Famara Diedhou for a club-record fee as well as Nathan Baker and Niclas Eliasson, all staples of the side to the current day.

Leading up to the Manchester United game, City had won 9 of their past 11 games and had already beaten three Premier League sides in Watford, Stoke City, and Crystal Palace previously in the competition.

Dan Mullan/Getty Images Europe

As for Manchester United, going into the game the Red Devils were 2nd in the Premier League, behind the eventual runaway champions Manchester City. They had only conceded 8 goals in the league up to Bristol City game. Despite that, they were still 15 points away from the then-unbeaten Guardiola side.

United were rife with attacking options that season, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard contributing to their goals. The first two of the five joined in the summer, along with Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof for Jose’s second season at the helm for the Old Trafford side.

So far in the competition, Man Utd faced Burton Albion and Swansea City respectively, winning 4-1 and 2-0. Three of those goals were from Jesse Lingard, a player who looks to have regressed massively in the current day.

Starting Lineups

Bristol City started the game in an unconventional starting line up, that still to this day looks odd on paper. This is because the team were down to “bare bones” as Lee Johnson put it, in an interview after the game.

Despite all that, there was only one change. Second choice keeper Luke Steele, who was a Manchester United youth player, started the game, instead of Frank Fielding. City started with a back four of four centre halves, in Hörður Magnússon, Aden Flint, Baker, and Bailey Wright, from left to right.

The two holding midfielders of Marlon Pack and Korey Smith were in-place to restrict United. Whilst box to box midfielder Josh Brownhill was out wide-right. On the other side the attacking left-back, Joe Bryan, was employed in a role further forward.

City were down to one fit out an out striker in Matty Taylor, who started on the bench, as Johnson opted for two false nine attackers in Jamie Paterson and Bobby Reid.

They were two energetic forwards, to put pressure on United’s centre-halves, a weakness spotted by Bristol City coach Lee Johnson. Bristol City were known for a high pressing energetic style of football back then, whilst the United centre-backs were known to sit back and let the middle of the pitch open up. A matchup spotted by the coach.

He explains this is in the tactical masterclass video below, thanks to The Coaches’ Voice on YouTube.

As for United, they named five changes from the previous game at West Brom, resting David De Gea, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Nemanja Matic.

This meant Sergio Romero started between the sticks. Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw replaced Valencia and Young respectively, with Marcus Rojo and Victor Lindelöf slotting in between them.

Mr. Versatility, Daley Blind, was employed to sit in front of those four. Partnering the Dutchman in the middle of the park were Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba, with the aim of shuttling between the midfield lines.

Jose named his best three players in the attacking department, as the talented front three of Marcus Rashford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Anthony Martial lead the line. A strong attacking lineup named for United.

The First Half

The game started with United on top, a few chances either way, but a dominant first half hour for the visitors. The first chance that swung United’s way came 10 minutes in after a mazy run from Anthony Martial.

He took the ball to the edge of the Bristol City penalty area, before finding his fellow Frenchman in Paul Pogba, inside. Pogba then thread the ball back through his own legs finding Martial again with a backheel.

A beautiful whipped cross was to follow from Martial, who with his back to goal found Zlatan Ibrahimovic approaching the far post. That cross met the right foot of the eleven time winner of the Guldbollen, which is the award for Swedish Footballer of the Year.

Right at the back-post, the talisman saw his volley deflected onto the post by Nathan Baker, an attempt that fooled the Bristol City goalkeeper, Luke Steele. Luckily for the Robins, Aden Flint was there to clear their lines.

Just over 10 minutes later, there was a second big chance for the visitors, which was spearheaded by a long but low ball forward by Marcus Rojo. That ball was subsequently flicked into the path of Anthony Martial by Zlatan.

The attacker didn’t see an opening, so dumped the ball off to an onrushing Scott McTominay, who then slid the ball to Marcus Rashford on the edge of the Robins’ penalty area. The England international then abused his pace to get past Korey Smith and Marlon Pack.


With those two out the way, he went on to unleash a low driven strike at Steele’s goal. That strike cannoned against the right post, which was unfortunate, as there was a lovely build-up to that attempt, a great chance that came to nothing.

Bristol City did have an opportunity to follow those two United misses, after a Korey Smith pass found Josh Brownhill with space to run in to. The Number 8 ended up having a long-range effort, which fell into the feet of Marcus Rojo.

That wasn’t the end of the chance though, as Brownhill won the ball back off the Argentine and executed a perfectly dinked switch to an incoming Hörður Magnússon.

The Iceland international, who was part of the squad that knocked England out of the European Championships just over a year earlier, chested the ball down onto the floor before striking a left-footed volley at Sergio Romero.

The Argentine goalkeeper was forced to parry the ball out for a corner, in front of the Atyeo Stand. That was that for the first half, United the better side, Bristol City still with both feet in the game.

The Second Half

The start of the second half saw the game begin to open up a bit, and within a few minutes, there was a goal.

Another Manchester United chance kicked off the notable moments of the half. It saw Marcus Rashford and Daley Blind both standing over an in-swinging free kick opportunity, on the edge of the Bristol City area.

Rashford’s attempt caught the chest of Korey Smith, which pushed it goal-bound. Steele’s reactions were therefore tested, with the Bristol City goalkeeper pushing the ball out for a corner.

Only a few moments later we had the first goal, as Bristol City academy graduate Joe Bryan opened the scoring with a tremendous left-footed strike. One that Romero had no chance of saving.

The move started with Bryan chesting down a header back into his own half, and flicking the ball over the head of Daley Blind. Bryan then continued on his run, offloading to Jamie Paterson just over the halfway line.

Paterson then slotted the ball into the feet of Marlon Pack who, when boxed in by four United players, managed to mangle the ball into the path of the under-lapping Bryan. A perfect pass that even Andrea Pirlo would be proud of.

All Bryan needed to do was beat Sergio Romero, who was cemented to the near post. Bryan, now in the penalty area, took a moment before lofting the ball into the top right hand corner. A wonder goal from a special player.

Dan Mullan/Getty Images Europe

That lead only lasted 8 minutes though, as Manchester United equalised through a Zlatan Ibrahimovic free-kick. The chance came about after a questionable decision by Mike Dean, giving a foul against Korey Smith, even though Pogba fell into him.

The ball was placed right on the edge, and slightly to the left of the Bristol City penalty area. And with great technique the ball found the back of the net. Zlatan’s low effort curled around the City wall and bounced right in front of the goalkeeper.

As the game reached it’s closing stages, there were a few chances either way. For United, Paul Pogba found some space on the left of midfield and drilled in a low cross for the substitute Romelu Lukaku to dive onto. Luke Steele was there to parry it away. Bristol City had a curled Jamie Paterson attempt skim the crossbar.

The final Manchester United chance fell to Lukaku again. The Belgian Red Devil recieved the ball from fellow sub Jesse Lingard on the edge of the six yard box, and took his time before rifling an effort at goal. His attempt went through Aden Flint’s legs, but luckily for Bristol City, Luke Steele was there to save the day with a fingertip save.

Time ticked away, with one final chance falling to Bristol City within the last minute of stoppage time, and take it they did. The move was yet again spearheaded by Joe Bryan, without a doubt the man of the match.

He managed to hold up the ball near the touchline, attracting the United midfield to press both him and Jamie Paterson, but leaving a huge gap in their own half. Bryan spotted this gap, and Korey Smith moving forward from the centre of midfield, directing the ball his way.

Smith then spotted Bobby Reid, who lost out to Luke Shaw, but that wasn’t the end by any means. There was still life in the game, as Korey Smith latched onto a Scott McTominay chest down to the ground and found substitute Matty Taylor.

Getty Images

Taylor managed to juke Matteo Darmian, taking the ball right the way round him, turning, and dropping a dinked ball over the head of the Manchester United defenders.

The rest was history, as Korey Smith chested the ball before striking a left foot volley round a sliding Sergio Romero, sending Bristol City into the Semi Finals of the League Cup.

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