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City keep gutsy Villa at bay to extend stunning cup run

League Cup final: Manchester City 2 Aston Villa 1

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Manchester City defender John Stones consoles Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish after the final whistle at Wembley. Photo: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters

Manchester City defender John Stones consoles Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish after the final whistle at Wembley. Photo: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters

Action Images via Reuters

Manchester City defender John Stones consoles Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish after the final whistle at Wembley. Photo: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters

In the end Manchester City's hold on English domestic cup competitions continued but this was not the domination that everyone feared.

Aston Villa were not dismissed in the League Cup final in the way Watford were taken apart - and demoralised - 6-0 in last season's FA Cup final and their manager Dean Smith gathered his staff and players on the pitch to transmit that message.

If Villa fight like this they will avoid relegation from the Premier League and while City, with a sense of inevitability, were victorious they were indebted to stand-in goalkeeper Claudio Bravo who made a superb late save as he pushed Bjorn Engels' header against the post.

It was a fine final; one in which Villa had a puncher's chance and almost delivered a telling blow. One in which it felt they were on the canvas, two down in 30 minutes, but rose to make a fight of it.

One in which Pep Guardiola made eight changes, in which 19-year-old Phil Foden was man of the match, but also one in which the City manager had to turn to Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus as the tension grew.

Retained

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola holds the Carabao Cup trophy. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola holds the Carabao Cup trophy. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola holds the Carabao Cup trophy. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

The win means that City retained the Carabao Cup and have won it for three seasons in a row and, in fact, five times in the last seven campaigns.

Added to that they have claimed the Community Shield twice under Guardiola - as well as the FA Cup - meaning he has not lost any of the six finals in which he has led them.

Furthermore, since the start of 2017-'18 City have won eight of the nine English trophies available which is something Guardiola made great play of.

Of course his record in finals stretches way beyond that and this was the 21st that he has won in 25 he has contested as a manager and that is a formidable record.

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Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne in action with Aston Villa's Bjorn Engels. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne in action with Aston Villa's Bjorn Engels. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

REUTERS

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne in action with Aston Villa's Bjorn Engels. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

This may be one of the lesser prizes but the celebrations suggested otherwise. City revelled as they had every right to.

There are bigger battles ahead - on the field with the Champions League and off it with their fight to try and over-turn Uefa's two-season European ban and the ongoing Premier League investigation - but this capped a good week for them. A week in which they have gone to Spain and beaten Real Madrid and have now collected silverware with Guardiola insisting his squad has the hunger to win more and more trophies.

They certainly were not lacking in desire and none more so than Foden who - still just 19 - collected his fifth major trophy with City.

Also at the end Guardiola sought out John Stones for a bear-hug - one that seemed to startle the defender who, perhaps, felt he was due something a bit more stern from his manager after a display in which he was clearly at fault for Villa's goal just before half-time as he inexplicably lost his footing.

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Aston Villa's Frederic Guilbert in action with Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko. Photo: Matthew Childs/Action Images via Reuters

Aston Villa's Frederic Guilbert in action with Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko. Photo: Matthew Childs/Action Images via Reuters

Action Images via Reuters

Aston Villa's Frederic Guilbert in action with Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko. Photo: Matthew Childs/Action Images via Reuters

It changed the atmosphere around a final that had appeared routine. All eyes were on whether Jack Grealish could give Villa hope but he was shackled while City struck twice within 10 minutes to appear to take the contest away from Villa.

Both goals will have annoyed Smith even if the first was well-constructed with Foden at the heart of it as possession was worked from left to right with Raheem Sterling drawing defenders before rolling the ball to Rodri who switched play to pick out the run of Foden.

He guided his header into Sergio Aguero's path and the striker's half-volley deflected off Tyrone Mings and into the net.

Ten minutes later, Mings ran over to argue with the assistant referee after a corner was given when Grealish blocked an Ilkay Gundogan cross even though the ball came back off the City midfielder.

Advantage

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Aston Villa's Mbwana Samatta scores his side's goal. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

Aston Villa's Mbwana Samatta scores his side's goal. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

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Aston Villa's Mbwana Samatta scores his side's goal. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

Gundogan took the corner, Rodri ran in, Fredric Guilbert was easily beaten and the header was planted past goalkeeper Orjan Nyland to double City's advantage.

Maybe it was the sense of grievance or, more obviously, it was the ability to capitalise on a mistake but Villa seized the lifeline when it was offered.

It came when Stones tumbled over as he tried to deal with a high ball from Matt Targett allowing Anwar El Ghazi to hoist a cross into the penalty area with Mbwana Samatta stealing in between Fernandinho and Oleksandr Zinchenko to send a diving header past Bravo. Remarkably, it was the first goal a Guardiola side had conceded in a cup final since Wayne Rooney scored, also at Wembley, in the 2011 Champions League final.

It completed the scoring but not the excitement. Throughout the second half City tried to end any doubt, claiming more than 70 per cent possession and pushing Villa back to the edge of their own area but Mings and Engels showed the way as they blocked, tackled and held their positions.

Marvelous Nakamba took it too far, it seemed, with a lunging challenge on Aguero but as players reacted angrily the referee Lee Mason only cautioned the midfielder when he could have been dismissed. Aguero was later substituted with swathes of plastic wrapped around his knee.

City went close on three occasions - Foden bounced a shot narrowly wide, Nyland did well to beat out another Rodri header and also blocked a shot from Bernardo with his feet - but Villa stayed in the game. In the final few minutes there was one last surge of effort, with the raucous Villa fans sensing the opportunity, which culminated in Bravo denying Engels from a corner.

Villa gave everything. After that final whistle Grealish lay on his back, sobbing, and was consoled by Foden, Stones and Fernandinho before Smith called everyone together for the mass huddle. It had been a brilliant effort but not quite enough. City and Guardiola - once again - claimed the cup. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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