Aymeric Laporte headed Manchester City to a 1-0 victory over Tottenham in the Carabao Cup final as Pep Guardiola’s men landed their first trophy of what could be a treble-winning season.
City’s attacking players rained attempts on the Tottenham goal in a one-sided Wembley clash, but it was defender Laporte who came up with the clinical finish in the 82nd minute, nodding Kevin De Bruyne’s free-kick past Hugo Lloris.
The Spurs goalkeeper had been magnificent until then, but the quality of the delivery and the precision of Laporte’s header gave the French goalkeeper little chance.
Top of the Premier League and chasing Champions League glory, a fourth consecutive triumph in the EFL Cup seems unlikely to be the pinnacle of City’s achievements this term.
Tottenham, seeking a first major trophy since they won this competition 13 years ago, were predictably second best for long periods. At the end of a week in which Jose Mourinho was sacked by Spurs, and both finalists entered and then pulled out of the European Super League, this was a final that showed City are out on their own as England’s premier team.
They threatened in the seventh minute when Phil Foden prodded wide from Raheem Sterling’s pacy low centre, and moments later Sterling put a header off target.
Sterling had an even better chance in the 14th minute when Foden’s cut-back from the left reached him near the edge of the six-yard box, but the City man smashed his shot against the sprawling Eric Dier.
Watched by an 8,000-strong crowd at Wembley, a stadium that has welcomed more than 10 times that number through its doors in normal times, City looked at ease against a Tottenham side who had Harry Kane back from injury.
Foden looked a certain scorer in the 26th minute when he met a cross from De Bruyne on the right. It looked to be Foden against Lloris, but into the equation came Toby Alderweireld who flung himself at the winger’s shot and made an exceptional block, deflecting the ball against the outside of the right post.
Sterling chipped wide, Riyad Mahrez whipped a 25-yard effort a whisker away from the top left corner, and Lloris saved well from Joao Cancelo. Tottenham, somehow, were still on level terms at the break.
Giovani Lo Celso almost put Spurs ahead right at the start of the second half, an arcing shot from the playmaker brilliantly touched away by Zack Steffen.
Yet City chances kept coming, with Mahrez, Cancelo and Ilkay Gundogan all threatening. When Tottenham, spurred by a lung-busting run from Kane, got forward, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg haplessly kicked the ball out of play, anticipating a run from Sergio Reguilon that never came.
Fernandinho and Mahrez were denied by the busy Lloris, and Gundogan volleyed wide.
Tottenham caretaker boss Ryan Mason would have been dreaming of glory, until along came Laporte.
City had a second goal disallowed in stoppage time, with Foden offside before he teed up Mahrez. It only took one, and now City go to Paris, turning their focus from beating domestic rivals to conquering Europe.
What does it mean?
This should have been a landslide, and the fact it did not turn out that way may be the only concern for Guardiola.
Perhaps they were saving their more clinical finishes for the upcoming Parc des Princes clash, against a PSG side for whom Kylian Mbappe and Neymar rarely squander the type of opportunities Sterling, Foden and Co kept passing up.
But still City lifted the trophy, one they have made their own in recent times.
What Kane would give for some of the quality deliveries that were fed to City’s forwards in this game. Another chance of a trophy passes by for him, and you wonder now if his patience will have run out.
Lloris shows mettle for Mason
Lloris made three important saves and his defenders were also outstanding until perhaps they briefly switched off and allowed Laporte to win that decisive header late in the game.
Rookie boss Mason had good cause to be proud of his backline.
France goalkeeper Lloris is another who has been linked with a move away from Tottenham. His world-class credentials are not in doubt and Guardiola must have admired some of his glovework as City struggled to put the ball in the net.
Steffen, at the other end, was troubled only once and was largely a spectator.
There is always plenty to enjoy when it comes to watching Sterling.
He was lively in build-up play, but as a finisher he is blatantly struggling. It is over two months since he last found the net for City but the England international had plenty of chances to end that drought at the national stadium.
He had five goal attempts, more than any other City player, but none of them hit the target. Record scorer Sergio Aguero watched from the bench, wondering what might have been.
Key Opta Facts
– Manchester City secured their eighth League Cup title, the joint-most alongside Liverpool. Indeed, they are just the second team to win the competition in four consecutive campaigns (Liverpool, 1981-1984).
– Only Arsenal (6) have lost more League Cup finals than Tottenham (5), with Spurs now losing each of their last three finals in the competition.
– Since the turn of the century, Tottenham have ended as runners-up in five of their six finals across all competitions, failing to score in each of their last four finals.
– City have won 19 of their 25 League Cup matches under Pep Guardiola (D4 L2); with only Roy Evans (78.3 per cent) posting a higher win percentage amongst managers in League Cup history than the Spaniard (76 per cent).
– Tottenham only attempted two shots, accumulating an expected goals total of 0.06, while in contrast City fired in 21 shots and posted an xG of 3.63.
– Guardiola became the first manager to win the League Cup in four consecutive seasons, while no manager has lifted the trophy more times than he has (4 – level with Brian Clough, Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho).
Manchester City cannot afford to over-celebrate this one, given they have a Champions League semi-final first leg at Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.
Tottenham are back in action next Sunday, when they face Sheffield United in the Premier League.
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