ASTON VILLA 1, MAN CITY 2
How Manchester City were made to fight for their third successive Carabao Cup win by brave Aston Villa.
Only an unbelievable save from City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo in the dying minutes prevented Bjorn Engels taking the final to extra time.
And there was the unusual sight in the five minutes of added time of seeing under-pressure City launching clearances into the stands, a rarity.
It was a far cry to the opening half hour when goals from Sergio Aguero and Rodrigo gave City a 2-0 lead and it looked as case of by how many they would win their fifth League Cup in seven seasons and seventh overall, one being Liverpool who have most wins with eight.
Villa, who lost 6-1 at home to City in January and who were quoted at 18/1 to win, halved the deficit just before half time through Tanzanian striker Mbwana Samatta which set up an enthralling second period.
City were unable to kill off the game and Villa, who were 18/1 outsiders in a two-horse race, remained in with a shout as they were pursuing a first piece of silverware for 24 years.Embed from Getty Images
Manager Pep Guardiola was elated but acknowledged his side had been in a battle in the 25th final of his career in which he has won 21 and eighth win in nine domestic competitions.
He said “Three times in a row is a big success. It’s the consistency, incredible.
“It was awesome. We struggled in the first minutes and the last ones. They had two clear chances in the first minutes but we played really well, especially in the second half.
“The game was good. Phil (Foden) was clinical. Big success, our second title of the season with the Community Shield, it’s so nice.
“We’ve won a lot. I tried when we arrive, every game we play we try to win it, every competition we try to win it, and three times in a row, being here and winning is great.”
And of his prolonged period of success at City, he added: “That is remarkable and shows we are consistent.
“When you review what we have done in the last nine competitions, you sense this group is something special.”
Villa manager Dean Smith said: “Yes, we are disappointed, but the players will wake up tomorrow and have a lot of pride with their performance.
“We came with a belief and, as we were 18/1 to win, we something to prove.”
Smith told the players in the post-match huddle he was proud of their performance.
“That level of performance will get you wins in the Premier League,” he said when questioned about their fight for survival.
Guardiola made eight changes from the side which recorded a historic win at Real Madrid in midweek.
Kyle Walker, Ilkay Gundogan and Rodrigo were the three survivors from the side that triumphed in Spain.
There were recalls for Bravo, Oleksandr Zinchenko, John Stones, David Silva, Fernandinho, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Aguero.
And the players to lose out were Ederson, Nicolas Otamendi, Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy, Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne.
Villa’s Anwar El Ghazi had the first clear-cut chance of the match as his header looped on the roof of the net.
Aguero had a header which also landed in an identical position before he gave City a 20th minute lead.
It was simplicity personified as Rodrigo’s cross was headed back by Foden for Aguero to hit into the ground from six yards and beyond the despairing dive of goalkeeper Orjan Nyland, his 22nd goal of the season and sixth in 10 Wembley appearances.
Foden, exuding confidence, cut in from the right and saw a shot flash past the far post as City almost doubled their advantage.
It was not long before the second goal arrived just short of the half hours when Rodrigo headed home Gundogan’s corner from seven yards, his fourth goal of the campaign.
Just when it looked as though victory would be a proverbial stroll in the park for City, Villa halved the deficit when they capitalised after Stones slipped after losing his footing.
El Ghazi raced away on the left and crossed for Samatta to head home low past Bravo from seven yards.
It was the striker’s second goal following his £8million January signing from Belgium club Genk.
Foden, 20, who picked up the Alan Hardaker Trophy for being man of the match, had the chance to score a third for City early in the second half after a poor headed clearance by Tyrone Mings but shot narrowly wide.
City made their first change just short of the hour when Gundogan made way for De Bruyne.
Rodrigo would have sealed victory with 16 minutes left when his header from De Bruyne’s corner was well kept out by Nyland diving low to his left.
The two Silva’s exchanged places with 13 minutes left when David was replaced by Bernardo.
Many City fans were celebrating thinking Aguero had found the net, but his volley from Bernardo Silva’s cross flew into the side netting.
City made their final change with six minutes left when Jesus took over from Aguero.
Villa almost made it 2-2 in the 88th minute when Bravo managed to turn Bjorn Engels’ header on to the upright following a corner.
It was then Nyland’s turn to save Villa, keeping out Bernardo Silva’s shot with his legs as a third goal remained elusive until the end.