In a heart-stopping afternoon of football, Manchester City beat Aston Villa 2-1 to win the Carabao Cup.
The result marks Manchester City’s third successive Carabap Cup triumph, moving them onto seven overall (just one behind record-holders Liverpool) and securing a major trophy in what has been a rocky season so far. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Sergio Aguero
Manchester City won 1-2 in the Santiago Bernabeu and Sergio Aguero didn’t play a single minute. The man with 252 goals in 365 games for the Sky Blues was not called upon by Pep Guardiola in his side’s biggest game of the season so far.
The reason for that? Guardiola knew he had a cup final a few days later and wanted to make sure his star man was ready for that. And so, today, Aguero had even more pressure on him to score. Gabriel Jesus had turned into a spectacular match-winning performance in Madrid, so now it would be up to Aguero to respond in kind and deliver major silverware for Manchester City.
And sure enough, he did exactly that. With 20 minutes to go a lovely crossfield pass was headed back across goal by Phil Foden. When the ball was travelling to the youngster, Aguero could have attacked the near-post but instead he hung back and this paid off when Foden’s header did come his way and he had the space to get his foot up above the ball and smack it goalwards, giving his side the lead.
In the end a knock to his knee forced him off with 10 minutes left, an injury incurred because he went for a spectacular volleyed shot. It was in many ways a perfect example of why Guardiola was right to rest his star-man in Madrid, because knowing the risks Aguero takes he could have picked up an injury there and missed the cup final, where he ended up being a goalscoring hero.
Loser: John Stones
When you start a cup final, you obviously want to win. You even hope to play well too. You carry with you the hopes and dreams of an entire fanbase, people who want to live vicariously through your sporting glory. At minimum you expect to give your everything, leaving your soul out on the field in pursuit of glory.
Manchester City become just the second team in history to win three consecutive League Cup titles.
Bald is brilliant. pic.twitter.com/yrJkFjwKQC
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 1, 2020
What you don’t want to do, what you pray you don’t do, is make a mistake. Especially not a mistake that leads to the opposition scoring. That, with the eyes of the world watching, would be unbearable. It would be hellish even for a player in good form, but if you’ve been struggling? Oh, it would be horrible.
So imagine how John Stones feels? With Manchester City 2-0 up and cruising a simple ball is hoofed forward and Stones should head it clear. Except John Stones hasn’t been the same since the 2018 World Cup and, well, instead of standing tall and heading it away Stones just sort of crumpled. It was a perfect visual metaphor for the Englishman’s form these days. Just folding like cheap paper under the merest hint of pressure. The ball then broke for Villa and they pulled a goal back. Stones’ only solace is that the goal didn’t end up counting against Manchester City, who won anyway.
Rodri has had an up-and-down debut season for Manchester City. The Spaniard should have been the final piece of the jigsaw to turn Manchester City into a team that could genuinely challenge for the UEFA Champions League (and, to be fair, he still might do that) but thanks to a slew of defensive injuries he’s mostly been scrambling to cover defensively rather than adding real impetus.
But today against Villa, Rodri showed the potential ball production that he can add to Manchester City. The defensive midfielder was a rock solid presence in the heart of midfield, preventing Villa incursions and keeping Manchester City on the front-foot. But he was also a decisive presence in the final third, creating Manchester City‘s opening goal with a lovely diagonal pass and scoring the cup-clinching goal with a thumping header.
Not bad for your first season in England!
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Winner: Claudio Bravo
In the 88th minute Aston Villa were 2-1 down and had a corner. The ball was whipped in furiously and Bjorn Engels was first to it, guiding a header goalwards. At the moment he headed it, you expected a goal. You expected one because Claudio Bravo was in goal for Manchester City and the Chilean’s time at Manchester City can charitably be described as laughable and more accurately described by a string of expletives.
But Claudio Bravo was in no mood to be humiliated. Not today. Not in a season when all Manchester City have done is be humiliated. Now he was going to step up and show the kind of skills that Guardiola was expecting when he signed the Chilean from Barcelona back in 2016. And so Bravo delivered, palming Engels’ header firmly onto the post. And when the ball was only half-cleared and sent back into a crowded penalty area, Bravo did something he rarely has in a Manchester City shirt and took pressure off his defence by coming out to claim the ball. It was a small moment of goalkeeping excellence and it won Manchester City a trophy.
What, exactly, is VAR for? Obviously no one wants VAR to intervene constantly with endless delays, but certain things can be checked and clarified in mere seconds. Manchester City‘s second goal was a sublime header from Rodri, no arguments there as the Spaniard thumped in Ilkay Gundogan’s corner. But should it have been a corner?
Gundogan was trying to shield the ball out of play but it got played off him by Jack Grealish and should have been a goal-kick. The linesman was unsighted so blew for a corner, but VAR had a reverse angle and could have instantly clarified that it should have been a goal-kick.
But no, the corner was allowed to be taken. But even then, when the goal was being reviewed by VAR (as all goals are) then surely they should have checked and realised that it should never have been a corner and pulled it back? After all, if not correcting errors like that, what is VAR for?
Phil Foden's honours for Man City at 19 years old:
🏆🏆🏆 Community Shield
🏆🏆🏆 League Cup
🏆🏆 Premier League
🏆 FA Cup
On average, he lifts a trophy every 270 minutes of playing time. pic.twitter.com/fCSr23HLm8
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 1, 2020
Winner: Pep Guardiola
Under Guardiola‘s management, Manchester City have won nine straight matches at Wembley. Under Guardiola‘s management, Manchester City have won three straight Carabao Cups. Under Guardiola‘s management, Manchester City‘s standards have risen to the point where they not only expected to win this competition but if this remains all they win this season, then they will be disappointed.
Guardiola‘s coaching excellence has not been diminished by Manchester City‘s struggles in the league this season. Perhaps his and Manchester City‘s ability to recruit players should be looked at, but the fact that Guardiola has turned 35-year-old Fernandinho into a genuinely excellent centre-back that has now, in back-to-back games, helped Manchester City win at the Santiago Bernabeu and secure their third straight EFL Cup, should leave the people in no doubt: Guardiola is the greatest coach in the world.