Another trophy totted up for Manchester City, even if this was not one of those days when the goals rocketed up. A spirited Aston Villa ensured this was no repeat of the FA Cup final, making a real game of it, and thereby making a day of it.
City, however, still just made a bit of history. Manchester City won a third successive League Cup by beating Villa 2-1, to also ensure they have won six of the last seven domestic trophies.
That is some level of success, that reflects the machine that this super-powered super-funded club has come. It has brought a super level of talent, from the intelligence of manager Pep Guardiola, to the stellar ability of goalscorer Sergio Aguero, and the sprightly quality of homegrown Phil Foden.
There were many moments when he made the game his own. And, just as City have made all that talent their own, they have almost made this trophy their own. This was the fifth time they’ve won it in seven years. It has in that sense become a tangible marker of their domination. Guardiola has explicitly said he doesn’t think this competition should exist. He just keeps winning it because he can.
That’s the level. That’s what Villa were up against, the chasm they had to cross, and why there was such an impressive defiance in defeat. There were stretches of this game - particularly in the 10 minutes after Rodri’s goal - when it seemed like it was going to be another walkover that allowed a procession.
Villa prevented that, and came close to preventing City winning. Tyrone Mings was inches away from forcing extra-time, only to be scuppered by a brilliant save from Claudio Bravo.
Dean Smith’s team had given all they can. Villa as a whole had given all they can, and thereby took so much out of the day.
The fans excitedly roared on moments like the first chance of the game, that Anwar El Ghazi headed over, while also making quite the point with the first chant of the game.
“Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that.” Except they might well be singing it in June, because City very quickly showed the type of slick football they have recovered over the last few weeks, to suddenly make them look very formidable again. The slackness of late 2019 is gone. It is as if a spark has been lit in the team.
They fired up on 20 minutes, as Rodri played a ball over Phil Foden, he headed it down and Sergio Aguero - of course - finished from close in.
It then seemed like any fire had gone out of the game on 30 minutes, as Rodri powered in the second goal with a header.
There was a 10-minute stretch after that where it looked like a training exercise for City. Their players were almost indulging themselves and trying things, like pot shots from distance. It had that feel about it.
It was maybe that very casualness that led to John Stones’ slip. Or it was maybe just John Stones.
This, however, was also where Villa deserved real credit. They dug in. They persevered. They took full advantage of such a chance when it came. Mbwana Samatta headed with full power, so thrillingly meeting El Ghazi’s cross.
There was now an edge to the game. There was total change to the tone.
That was emphasised with two moments. First there was Raheem Sterling’s booking for a rash challenge on Frederic Guilbert, the very fact he felt the need to do it emphasising how tetchy this was. Marvelous Nakamba later got what looked like retribution by going in even more strongly on Aguero.
There was then Guardiola’s decision to bring on the best midfielder in the world in Kevin De Bruyne. That’s how much he sensed the game was going out of control.
Stones, for his part, made up for the earlier error with a crucial header to divert a cross just when Samatta was again waiting.
City were made to wait for glory. And it involved a lot of tension. Orjan Nyland pulled off two exceptional saves, only to be bettered in the game’s stand-out, decisive moment. That was when Mings powered his header at goal, only for Bravo to touch it onto the post.
It was cleared. City were finally in the clear.
Yet another League Cup reflects an incredible level of domination.
This brilliant match, however, did not follow the usual pattern. It was one of City's hardest fought final. It was still, however, the same result. A Guardiola team claims yet another trophy.
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