Manchester City surprised even Pep Guardiola as they brushed aside Burton 9-0 to render the second leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final all but meaningless.
Gabriel Jesus scored four, with Kevin De Bruyne, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Phil Foden, Kyle Walker and Riyad Mahrez also on the score sheet for a rampant City.
There may be another 90 minutes to come at the Pirelli Stadium in a fortnight’s time, but City can start making bookings for the final at Wembley next month after piling up the highest score seen in an English cup semi-final.
“We spoke about travelling to Burton with as big an advantage as possible but we didn’t expect to score so many goals,” Guardiola said.
“It’s good for us because we can play the second team and players who don’t play so many minutes. In this incredible schedule, we have a little bit of a break in that week to prepare for the other competitions.”
After De Bruyne’s header five minutes in, City needed another 25 minutes to find the net – almost conceding in the meantime – but after Jesus scored a quickfire double after the half-hour mark, they were relentless in pushing forward and were looking for a 10th when the final whistle went.
“It’s the best way to respect the competition and respect the opponents,” Guardiola said. “If you are 4-0 up and forget to continue, you don’t have respect for the competition or your opponent. The best way is do what we have to do.”
There were no complaints about City’s attitude from Burton boss Nigel Clough, who could do little more than hold up his hands.
“I don’t think we could’ve done too much more with the quality that is out there,” he said. “One or two goals we’ll pick apart where we could’ve done better, especially the first one, but the gulf between the two teams is far too much to make up tonight.
“We’re talking about United, Arsenal, and Chelsea bridging the gap between themselves and the top three – we’re halfway down League One so we’ve got no chance.”
Seven of City’s goals came in a 40-minute spell either side of half-time, from Jesus scoring the second on the half-hour mark to Walker making it 8-0 in the 70th minute.
“They’re professional, they keep going and don’t ever ease off,” Clough said. “They don’t just beat you, they annihilate you.
“It’s not very pleasant when you’re on the other end of it, but I’ve just said to the players, if that front five players in the final of the Champions League… if they make it… they’ll give Real Madrid problems or whoever problems, so they’re going to give us problems.”
But while the scoreline threatened to put a dampener on the occasion – as did traffic problems on the road north from Burton – Clough said the club and their fans could still be proud.
“It’s not about tonight, it’s about Burton Albion getting to the semi-final of the League Cup,” he said. “That’s why we had several thousands supporters here celebrating the fact we’ll probably never be here again.”
That was also why Guardiola was quick to run on to the pitch to speak to the Burton players at the full-time whistle.
“I wanted to congratulate them for an incredible tournament,” he said. “When you get to the semi-finals and you have beaten Premier League teams and mythic teams like Aston Villa or Middlesbrough, the reason why they are here, they deserve incredible credit.
“We are not a team that have a lot of titles in our museum so every chance to make a final you have to take. It doesn’t matter what happened last season, you have to take it.
“The only way is to take it seriously. I said to the players, respecting the opponent is to be who we are. That’s what we have done and that’s why we are pleased.”