Riyad Mahrez scored the first hat-trick in an FA Cup semi-final since 1958 as Manchester City kept their quest for the Treble on course by outclassing Sheffield United at Wembley.
The Blades battled gamely throughout and even missed a big early chance when Iliman Ndiaye saw his shot saved by Stefan Ortega but once Mahrez scored his first from the spot two minutes before half-time, City made their class count.
The Algerian opened the scoring after Daniel Jebbison fouled Bernardo Silva, before taking advantage of a wide-open Sheffield United defence to score the second with a solo effort just after the hour.
Mahrez then got his third – the first in a semi-final in this competition since Alex Dawson achieved the feat for Manchester United in 1958 – when he swept Jack Grealish’s cross past Wes Foderingham after 66 minutes.
It gave City manager Pep Guardiola the luxury of taking off key men such as Erling Haaland, Grealish, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan in readiness for what is shaping up as a defining Premier League title meeting with current leaders Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
City and Guardiola have had a highly satisfactory week after reaching the Champions League semi-final, setting up an FA Cup final with either Brighton or Manchester United and seeing main rivals Arsenal drop points in the league.
Manchester City manager Guardiola could have been forgiven for making widespread use of his vast resources of talent following his admission that they were “exhausted” after successfully coming through the Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich, and with that clash with Arsenal on the horizon.
Guardiola made adjustments, such as playing Ortega ahead of Ederson in goal, but the sight of Haaland up front made his and City’s intentions clear.
They want all three big prizes – the Champions League, the Premier League and the FA Cup – and are currently on one of those relentless rolls that gives them a huge chance of matching Manchester United’s feat in 1999.
On this occasion there was no need for Haaland’s goals – the Norwegian handing over penalty duties to Mahrez after missing in Munich.
Guardiola always appears to have one player, and many more, who rises to the occasion and this time it was Mahrez.
City look an increasingly ominous proposition and they have put themselves in the perfect position to have the greatest season in the club’s history.
Blades still have eyes on the prize
The debate about whether FA Cup semi-finals should be played at Wembley opened up again as vast swathes of empty seats were in evidence for what is traditionally regarded as one of the great showpiece occasions.
There is no question the atmosphere was subdued at times as this one-sided game played out but the counter argument might be made by Sheffield United’s fans who clearly relished the Wembley experience and gave their team magnificent support.
In reality, they will have known it would have been a huge shock had they toppled Manchester City’s selection of superstars but come the final whistle they were already turning their attention to what is undoubtedly their top priority this season – promotion to the Premier League.
The Blades are in a superb position to go up automatically as they stand seven points clear of Luton Town in third place with a game in hand and going up, along with reaching an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, would constitute a truly outstanding season for manager Paul Heckingbottom and his team.