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.
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City have few such problems under Pep Guardiola. They will face Tottenham in the final at Wembley on Sunday, April 25.
Man Utd: Henderson (8), Wan-Bissaka (6), Lindelof (5), Maguire (6), Shaw (6), Fred (7), McTominay (6), Pogba (6), Fernandes (5), Rashford (6), Martial (5).
Subs: Greenwood (n/a), Van De Beek (n/a).
Man City: Steffen (7), Stones (8), Dias (8), Zinchenko (7), Cancelo (7), Fernandinho (8), Gundogan (7), De Bruyne (7), Mahrez (6), Foden (7), Sterling (7).
Subs: Rodri (n/a).
Man of the match: Fernandinho.
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.
What the managers said...
Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: "City can score many great goals and you can accept that. But when you concede two simple set-plays that we should have cleared you're very disappointed. We just weren't good enough in those moments. We didn't create enough big chances ourselves. They didn't either but we just didn't have that extra finesse that we have had in the tight games we have won lately.
"When they play well you have to play really well to beat them, that's the reality of where we're at. When they are at their best we are just lacking a little bit. But we are getting closer. This is a much better version of Man Utd compared to last year in those semi-finals. That's a positive, but it's not enough.
"It's not psychological [losing in semi-finals]. Sometimes you meet good teams in semis and we just didn't have enough. We met probably the best team in England at the minute and for me, we just didn't have enough today."
Manchester City's Pep Guardiola: "It was for [Bell] and his family. He helped to build something special for this club and why there are many trophies in the cabinet. The legacy he provided is part of the club we now have. It was an incredible victory for us to beat United away and reach another final in this competition. It was for him.
"We are frustrated when we played badly and when the team don't run and help and celebrate every defensive action. But it was an outstanding performance. We were tired after the game at Chelsea but the team had the mentality to do it and we achieved something incredible. I'm so impressed by the quality of this team."
Analysis: 'City were just the better side'
Roy Keane on Sky Sports:
"I thought City were outstanding. It was a proper team performance. For a team which has had so much success, you saw at the final whistle how much it meant to them. They did a good job on United.
"I wouldn't be too hard on United. They just came up against a better team.
"Ole will be disappointed by the goals conceded. But overall, he can have no complaints. You have to hold your hands up and say 'City deserved it'."
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.
Post-match Opta stats
- Manchester City are only the second side to reach four consecutive League Cup finals, after Liverpool who did so between 1981 and 1984.
- Manchester United have been eliminated from three of their last four semi-final ties in the League Cup, having progressed from eight of nine before that.
- Fernandinho (35y 247d) became Man City's oldest scorer in the League Cup since Frank Lampard (36y 96d) vs Sheffield Wednesday in September 2014.
- John Stones scored his first goal for Manchester City in 1162 days, with his previous one coming against Napoli in November 2017 in the Champions League.
Live Premier League
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.