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EFL Cup: Spirited United Win Again but It’s Not Enough

Manchester City 0-1 (3-2 on agg.) Manchester United

As the football alert on my phone informed me that Nemanja Matic had fired Manchester United ahead, I had a quick look at the EFL Cup stats.

At that point Manchester City had mustered nine efforts, three on target, and United a solitary one.

Could a smash-and-grab against their city rivals really be on the cards?

Yes, before the match, home manager Pep Guardiola had said all the right things, stressing he was wary of the threat that United would pose.

But, with a 3-1 lead from a dominant first leg, the outcome seemed a formality and the SBOTOP EFL Cup 2020 agreed emphatically.

A one-sided first leg, indeed a one-sided first half, meant this tie was all but over just a quarter of the way in and a repeat of last month’s Premier League victory for United always unlikely.

 

Highlights of the game

Nemanja Matic scored the only goal of the EFL Cup clash between Manchester United and Manchester City
Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Manchester City

Well, the big EFL Cup 2020 news is that it is, as expected, City who will meet Aston Villa in the final on March 1 as they bid to win the competition for the fourth time in five years.

United have now won twice at City in a single season for the first time since 1956-57.

That should not fool anyone, though.

Other than the goal, United did not really test home keeper Claudio Bravo and City should have made it a lot easier than it was in the end.

The “perfect performance” that boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had said was necessary to spark any turnaround was suddenly more than a pipe dream when Matic struck 10 minutes before the break.

It was a fine strike, perfectly placed to deceive Bravo, after Fred’s free-kick had flicked off Bernardo Silva’s head.

By then David de Gea had kept out Sergio Aguero, blocked Riyad Mahrez’s deflected shot with his legs, turned away an Aguero shot bound for the near, top corner, while Harry Maguire had to produce a saving challenge on Raheem Sterling.

United, under pressure from boardroom level down, survived through a combination of doggedness (Matic was later sent-off for a second booking) and City profligacy as the tie went down to the wire, although they rarely threatened again.

Despite this result, as Manchester’s finest aimed for Wembley, the reality is still very clear. Here is one coach searching for fixes and a coach still striving to build something worthy of fixing.

Did tonight provide genuine reasons for encouragement or false promise for United?

I’m not so sure but my head still says the latter.

 

Key statistics

City are only the third team to reach three League Cup finals in a row, after Liverpool (four in a row between 1981 and 1984) and Nottingham Forest (1978 to 1980).

Only one other team has ever beaten City twice at the Etihad in a single season, with Arsenal winning two games in 2004-05.

This was Matic’s first goal since Boxing Day 2018 vs Huddersfield – 399 days ago.

He is the first United player to both score and be sent off in a game since Wayne Rooney against West Ham in the Premier League in September 2014.

United have lost just one of their last 125 games in all competitions when leading at half-time (won 109, drawn 14), a 2-1 defeat against Astana in the Europa League.

United are the first side to beat City in domestic cup competition (League Cup and FA Cup) since Wigan did so during the 2018 FA Cup, ending City’s 19-game unbeaten run in such fixtures.

Solskjaer is just the third manager to win two away matches against Pep Guardiola in his managerial career, after José Mourinho and Jürgen Klopp.

City have won just one of their last seven home matches against United (won one, drawn one, lost four).

United now have consecutive away victories against City for the first time since winning four in a row between November 1993 and November 2000.

In all competitions, the home side has won just two of the last 12Manchester derbies, including each of the last four.

Only one of the previous 30 teams to win a League Cup semi-final first leg by two or more goals have then been eliminated, with Tranmere Rovers going out against Aston Villa in 1993-94 (3-1 first leg, 1-3 second leg, lost 5-4 on penalties).

 

What’s next?

City have a tough Premier League encounter at Spurs on Sunday and then host West Ham the following weekend (February 9) before their brief winter break.

United have just one match before their interlude, a home league encounter with Wolves on Saturday teatime (February 1).

 

 

 

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