Manchester City kept their hopes of winning a fourth consecutive Carabao Cup alive after overcoming Manchester United 2-0 in their semi-final at Old Trafford.
The resurgent John Stones and Fernandinho struck in the second half on Wednesday night to seal their passage to the final, seeing off their rivals and maintaining their quest to equal Liverpool’s record of winning this competition four times in a row – which they managed between 1981-84.
United lost all three semi-finals they reached last season – including in this competition against City – and it was a curse that struck again. It is becoming a mental block for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his side.
City have few such problems under Pep Guardiola. They will face Tottenham in the final at Wembley on Sunday, April 25.
Clinical City sink United to reach another Carabao final
There may have been no goals in the first half, but the opening of this tie was nothing like the drab goalless draw we saw between these two sides in the Premier League a few weeks ago.
The ball was in the back of the net twice in the first five minutes at either end as both sides went for it early doors. First it was Stones inadvertently turning the ball into his own net after Zack Steffen had saved from Marcus Rashford, then it was Ilkay Gundogan turning home a low Phil Foden cross. With VAR in action at this stage of the competition, both goals were correctly ruled out as offside.
Then it was time for the creators to try and make their mark. After nine minutes Bruno Fernandes found space 20 yards out and saw his effort tipped wide by Steffen. Then four minutes later Raheem Sterling found Kevin De Bruyne on the edge of the box, but his powerful effort rattled the post.
City grew in ascendancy as the half went on, and once again the ball was in the net on 24 minutes, but again it was ruled out for offside, with Foden going just too early as he latched on to an Oleksandr Zinchenko pass and raced through before calmly finishing through the legs of Dean Henderson.
Eventually, the breakthrough was made in the 50th minute, and it came through the unlikely source of Stones. A brilliant free-kick delivery by Foden bounced all the way through to the defender, who bundled in his first goal for City since November 2017 from close range.
It was City who continued to press and United had Henderson to thank for keeping them in the tie. First pushing wide Sterling’s powerful header, then tipping over Riyad Mahrez’s curling effort from the edge of the box.
Both managers had five substitutes available to them, but Solskjaer waited until the 75th minute to make his first, throwing on Mason Greenwood in a bid to get back into the game.
The change had no real impact, though, and another rare scorer in Fernandinho sealed the victory. United could only clear a corner as far as the Brazilian on the edge of the box, and he coolly drove it back into the bottom corner.
Man of the match – Ruben Dias
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville:
“He is gluing that back four together. Their defensive record has been fantastic and he has been brilliant.”
His defensive partner Stones will take most of the headlines for his goal, but Dias has been a revelation since arriving at City in September for £65m and was brilliant again at Old Trafford.
He has adjusted to life in England with ease, and has the look of a centre-back who takes conceding goals personally. The 23-year-old is there to make every block, every tackle and every header.
He cost a lot for City, but has been worth every penny so far.
The Carabao Cup final will take place at Wembley on Sunday, April 25, with kick-off at 4pm.
Both sides are hosting Championship sides in FA Cup third-round action this weekend. United face Watford on Saturday (8pm), and City welcome Birmingham on Sunday (1.30pm).
United are then back in Premier League action at Burnley on Tuesday, January 12, live on Sky Sports Football for an 8.15pm kick-off, while City host Brighton on Wednesday, January 13 at 6pm.