Carabao Cup Final
Aston Villa 1-2 Manchester City
Manchester City won the Carabao Cup for a third successive season and took the first step towards realising their ongoing treble ambitions with a nervy 2-1 win over Aston Villa at Wembley.
A close-range finish from Sergio Aguero set Pep Guardiola’s side on their way (19), before Rodri dampened hopes of an upset when he headed home Ilkay Gundogan’s corner with half-an-hour on the clock.
While it initially looked as though Villa would be on the end of a hiding from there, they found a way back when Mbwana Samatta became the fifth African player to score in League Cup final following John Stones’ glaring error (41).
After a brave showing in the second half, it looked as though they might force a penalty shootout at the national stadium when Bjorn Engels’ header was tipped onto the framework of the goal by Claudio Bravo, but City held on for a fifth title in the last seven campaigns.
Backed by a typically raucous away following, Villa got the game up and running in a spritely fashion. Sensing opportunity from the first whistle, Anwar El Ghazi connected with a dangerous corner early on but the Netherlands international could not squeeze a header under Claudio Bravo’s crossbar.
Having weathered the storm, City settled into a rhythm thereafter and penned their suddenly nervous opponents in their own half, taking 19 minutes to assert their dominance when Aguero converted a knockdown from Phil Foden, in the 19-year-old’s first start since the 4-0 FA Cup drubbing of Fulham on January 26.
Hopes of upsetting the odds stacked in the reigning Premier League champions’ favour appeared to have evaporated in north London when Rodri powered a header beyond Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland after a contentiously-awarded corner. But Villa were not down and out.
John Stones gifted them a way back into the game. The centre-back failed to deal with a looping, yet straightforward, ball down City’s right, allowing El Ghazi to drive on and deliver a teasing cross that Samatta stooped steer into the back of the net.
There was no fast start from the holders after the break and any flow to the game ebbed away as the hour mark dawned, prompting Guardiola to introduce Kevin De Bruyne, who had inspired the 2-1 win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu earlier in the week.
He galvanised City, but try as they might, for all their tinkering around the penalty area and the 16 places between them in the Premier League, they just could not breach the brave backline of their opponents, marshalled so ably by Tyrone Mings and Engels.
In the dying embers, Engels came within inches of sending the tie to a shootout, but Bravo’s last-ditch intervention prevented such an eventuality and send the trophy back to the Etihad Stadium.