Carabao Cup final: Five things we learned from Man City’s narrow victory over Aston Villa

1) Guardiola (almost) always wins finals

This was the 25th major final of Pep Guardiola’s managerial career, and his 20th victory. Yes, City are well funded, just like Bayern Munich and Barcelona before them, but Guardiola’s coaching deserves enormous credit for that record too. What’s most notable about his particular style of play is just how difficult it is to come back into the game once you’ve fallen behind. It took a huge helping hand from John Stones to open the door for a possible comeback, but in the second half Villa barely had a sniff until Claudio Bravo nearly palmed Bjorn Engels’ header into his own net at the finish, as City smothered them with their controlled passing game for long periods. An 80 per cent winning record in finals is impressive, to go with a third successive League Cup, and there could still be at least one more final to come this season.

2) City’s squad rotation works perfectly

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It says something about the Manchester City squad that after 57 minutes of a League Cup final, Guardiola decided to bring on the best midfielder in the world. Kevin de Bruyne’s introduction was a reminder of not just how deep the talent runs through the team, but that Guardiola’s use of his players – deploying some in the Bernabeu and saving others for Wembley – worked spectacularly well, with two hard-fought 2-1 victories. 

3) Foden is ready for much more

Phil Foden has only made 10 starts for City this season, most of which have come in cup competitions, but he has delivered almost every time. His cumulative goals and assists is up to nine in those fixtures, after he teed up Sergio Aguero for City’s opener at Wembley, but it was his general play which was indicative of a player ready to play an altogether more significant role. England manager Gareth Southgate was at Goodison Park today to watch Everton’s draw with Manchester United, but he would have found time in his schedule to watch this game and he will have been impressed with the teenager’s direct dribbling and movement. With Euro 2020 on the horizon, Foden must surely be a consideration in what is an injury-affected squad, while the imminent departure of David Silva will leave a void in the City team from which Foden can surely benefit. 

4) City carry momentum into season’s business end 

The league may be long gone for City,  but there are still two more trophies to play for after clinching the Carabao Cup. They face Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup fifth round in midweek, before their Champions League second leg against Real Madrid in a couple of weeks, and the prize at the end of each tie is a place in two more quarter-finals. From a position not so long ago where it seemed Guardiola’s time at the Etihad could be up, and an FFP ban hanging over them, there is suddenly the sense of real life being breathed back into their campaign. 

5) Villa show spirit worth harnessing

It’s back to the day job for Villa and their fight for Premier League survival. This has been a disastrous weekend in many ways, given the victories of Norwich, West Ham and Watford, while Bournemouth also picked up a draw. But Dean Smith can take some encouragement from a second half in which his side not only kept City out but showed real heart and spirit, and pushed their illustrious opponents right to the final whistle. They will need to bottle capture that spirit to stay in the Premier League for another year. 

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