Manchester City edge Aston Villa in thriller to retain League Cup
Holders capture the Carabao Cup for third successive year thanks to goals from Aguero and Rodri
A 60th League Cup final brought Pep Guardiola a 30th trophy as a manager.
His Manchester City have three in a row in a competition they have made their own, capturers of the Carabao Cup for a third successive season. They have four in six years, seven successes in all. Only Liverpool, with eight, have more.
Aston Villa were valiant, but ultimately vanquished at Wembley, delight transplanted by despair at the same venue upon which they secured promotion last May to the Premier League. Heavy underdogs, in the end they could do nothing to stop the reigning English champions.
City began without their prize asset, Kevin De Bruyne consigned to the bench, yet Villa’s regular villain helped see off them once more. Sergio Aguero opening the scoring, a 10th goal in six matches against what he must surely regard a favourite foe. It was his sixth in nine for City at Wembley.
Rodri recorded the decisive blow, a header on the half hour that rendered redundant Mbwana Samara's first-half header. English football's great spenders had enough resources to get past one of England's great old clubs. They won 2-1 in what turned out to be a thriller.
Perhaps it could have been altogether different, though, had Villa taken the lead early on. Not long after the anthems had finished and the first whistle sounded, Ahmed Elmohamady crossed for Anwar El Ghazi, who crept free from John Stones only to head over. The Dutch winger held his head in his hands.
So, too, Aguero at the other end. On 10 minutes, he met Ilkay Gundogan’s centre inches in front of teammate Stones, but looped his header onto the roof of the Villa net. Aguero gave Stones a rueful glance.
Regret turned to relief soon after. In the 20th minute, Phil Foden met Rodri’s raking pass at the back post, knocked down the ball to Aguero, who prodded it home despite Tyrone Mings’ attempted block. City’s all-time leading scorer had struck again.
Buoyed by the breakthrough, City bounded forward. Livewire Foden went closest, cutting in from the right and onto his favoured left foot, but the slightest of deflections took his effort inches beyond the post.
Not that it mattered much, for City quickly doubled their advantage. Gundogan was fortunate to win a corner against Jack Grealish, the ball coming last off his chest, yet the grateful German used a substantial slice of luck to cross for an unmarked Rodri. The midfielder rose high to head low past Orjan Nyland in the opposition goal.
City were rampant; Villa reeling. Raheem Sterling threatened, Foden proved a constant menace from his station higher up the pitch, while David Silva pulled his side’s strings. Given the captain’s armband in what could conceivably be his last final for City, the Spaniard orchestrated and operated in the space behind Augero.
Then, with a jolt, Villa found themselves back in the game. Five minutes before half-time, they were gifted a lifeline. Stones stumbled under a high ball, El Ghazi flashed a volleyed cross into the City area and Samatta powered his header past Claudio Bravo.
The Tanzanian trailblazer had turned the tide. He joined fellow Africans Didier Drogba, Joseph-Desire Job, Obafemi Martins and Yaya Toure in scoring in a League Cup final.
At the beginning of the second half, Foden almost got his name on the scoresheet as well. Peeling away from the fray, he drilled a half-volley into the turf, but watched in anguish as it bounced just wide.
With Villa alive, Guardiola sent for De Bruyne. It was a recognition that the tie still teetered, a reminder too of the gap between the two sides. If divergent approaches may have taken them to this point, rival players converged 18 minutes from time, once Marvelous Nakamba crunched through Aguero on the halfway line. Much to City’s considerable ire, the Villa midfielder received only a booking. They appeared to have a point.
Almost immediately, Nyland reacted brilliantly to repel another Rodri header. Aguero rippled the side-netting with an acrobatic volley. Then, right at the death, Villa thought they had rescued it. But Bravo pushed Bjorn Engels' header onto the upright, and City breathed a significant sigh of relief. They held on.
Some way behind Liverpool in the league standings, City remain on course for a cup treble. Four days after a famous victory at Real Madrid, they found enough for a final flourish. Guardiola’s great Carabao Cup conquerors had another.
Published: March 1, 2020 10:35 PM