In April, Manchester City will face Tottenham at Wembley Stadium to win the Carabao Cup for the fourth time in a row – a feat only accomplished by Liverpool.
It was their fourth straight semifinal loss to Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Manchester United: losing on stage is becoming a habit of breaking. The last two episodes of carelessness in defense in standard circumstances, which led to goals from John Stones and Fernandinho, were what doomed them. Again, another bad practice that needs to be eradicated is this.
On the other hand, the city was jubilant, and rightfully so. They delivered the knockout blow when it counted.
And a fascinating tactical showdown is now on the horizon between Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho.
Two changes were made by each coach.
In goal, Solskjær opted for Dean Henderson, leaving David De Gea on the bench, and in central defence, Victor Lindelöf replaced Eric Bailly. Rodri was benched by Guardiola, and Fernandinho and Riyad Mahrez came into a City eleven without a known number 9 with Bernardo Silva suspended, Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus were also among the substitutes.
With Phil Foden, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Fernandinho and Stones all taking turns, City started the way they liked, running the ball. When Ilkay Gündogan headed Foden’s cross into the goal from the left, they had the ball in the net, but it was correctly ruled offside. The game already had a much higher pace than the mediocre 0-0 draw last month. After that, for him and his squad, Guardiola saw a subdued plan. What remained, however, was the penchant for poor defensive play by City: Raheem Sterling lost the ball after a missed pass from Stones, Scott McTominay played a back pass to Bruno Fernandes, and City goalkeeper Zack Steffen threw himself high and left to guide the goalbound shot of the Portuguese for a corner.
Kevin De Bruyne created an invigorating spectacle, pausing and then pulling the trigger when the ball was played to him in a central position: Henderson was just a spectator for the shot, and only the right post prevented the opening goal when the ball reached there.
Guardiola had João Cancelo come into the game to have an extra man in the midfield from the right side of defense – a trick he often uses – but that did not seem to faze United, with Paul Pogba always following him from his wide left position and taking him when he could. United finished with possession of around 30 percent.
The home side showed just how dangerous they are after Foden was whistled for a second City goal for offside – the third in the half after Rashford’s attempt was disallowed early in the game -: Rubén Dias’ block of Rashford was desperate and efficient.
The next contribution from Rashford was a touch that disappointed as the striker went for Steffen’s goal after Fred’s chip: the ball fell out of his boot and it was intercepted by the keeper.
A fight emerged that was reminiscent of a boxing match, with each boxer turning towards the other. There was no real relation, but you had the impression that at any moment it could happen.
Both teams had settled down a little by the break, with most of the action taking place in the middle third, where both parties hoped for a decisive breakthrough.
With a Luke Shaw free kick, the second half started for United, but it was blocked.
The first offensive action by City was Fernandin’s foul on Pogba, which earned the captain a yellow card.
As Sterling tempted McTominay into a free kick, from which they scored, the visitors did better. Foden circled a lovely cross into the penalty area, saw the ball go past the unfortunate Maguire and the overjoyed Stones slid in.
How should United respond to the challenge of Solskjær’s fourth straight semifinal defeat? Between pressing for an equalizer and preventing City from scoring a second objective that could prove fatal, a balance had to be struck.
A alarm came when Himmelblauen burst in and Henderson was backed into a corner by Sterling.
Sterling was stopped at another corner by Henderson in the box. As he blocked a 20-yard shot from Mahrez, Henderson had to interfere a third time. A corner kick was carried out by United and Maguire – who had no good spell in the game – went across.
The initiative of Fernandes, who went straight toward Steffen, was another glimmer of hope.
Fernandin’s decisive second goal came when he was reached by a poor Aaron Wan-Bissaka header from the City corner and beat Henderson from outside the box. Victory for Guardiola’s side was deserved. To Solskjær’s for