Reigning EFL Cup winners Manchester City emerged victorious over cross-town rivals Manchester United in the semi-final to book their date against Tottenham Hotspur in the final. Goals from two unlikely scorers in John Stones and Fernandinho were enough to decide what was a fascinating 90 minutes of football, which was a refreshing change from the dire 0-0 draw at the same venue just weeks ago.
Both sides took to the pitch with second choice goalkeepers between the sticks but named strong starting XIs, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opting to go for a near-full strength side while Pep Guardiola had limited options due to the COVID outbreak in the squad.
The first half in itself was a significant improvement on the whole 90 minutes that these sides played at Old Trafford late in 2020, with chances coming in thick and fast at both ends. The first five minutes saw the ball finding the back of both the Manchester United and Manchester City nets, albeit both being rightly ruled out by VAR.
Chief midfield orchestrators Bruno Fernandes and Kevin De Bruyne came close to breaking the deadlock with two superb stikes, with the former drawing a commendable save from Zack Steffen and the latter rattling the post. Phil Foden's smart finish through Dean Henderson's legs was also ruled out for offside later on in the half. While Guardiola's side saw the lion's share of the ball, it was Solskjaer's men who arguably had the better chances in the first 45.
City turned up the afterburners in the second half with a wave of sustained pressure in the first few minutes, and their efforts bore fruit just five minutes later. In-form defender John Stones got on the end of a delightful Foden delivery from a free-kick and guided the ball past Henderson, helping City draw first blood in the semi-final.
The United defense was caught ball watching as skipper Harry Maguire, in particular, failed to react in time, being the closest man to Stones. It was something of a collector's item as Stones registered his first goal in City colors in over three years.
The chances came pouring in for the visitors after they broke the deadlock as they took their game up by a few notches. Henderson was called into action more frequently in the second 45, drawing excellent reflex saves to deny Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez, with the latter's curling effort needing a special stop from the Englishman.
The Red Devils looked to respond in kind and crafted a couple of half-decent chances 15 minutes into the second half but failed to test American international Steffen in City's goal.
Guardiola's date for a clash with former Clasico rival Jose Mourinho was all but sealed by City veteran Fernandinho, whose controlled volley after the ball fell to him from a corner was dispatched into the bottom left corner.
Manchester City will look to win their fourth successive Carabao Cup final at Wembley, this time against Tottenham Hotspur, on April 25. Here are some of the best tweets from the game.