Manchester City overcome gutsy Aston Villa in League Cup final

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Manchester City collected their fifth League Cup in seven seasons with Sunday’s 2-1 win over Aston Villa at Wembley.

Pep Guardiola’s side appeared to be cruising toward a third successive title in the competition when Sergio Aguero and Rodri netted within the opening half-hour, but Mbwana Samatta leveled four minutes before the break after a clumsy stumble by John Stones.

City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo tipped the ball onto the post following an Aston Villa corner in the 88th minute, but the underdogs were unable to carve out an unlikely equalizer.

“Three times in a row is a big success. It’s the consistency, incredible,” Guardiola said post-match, as quoted by BBC Sport.

“It was awesome. We struggled in the first minutes and the last ones. They had two clear chances in the first minutes but we played really well, especially in the second half.

“The game was good. Phil (Foden) was clinical. Big success, our second title of the season with the Community Shield. It’s so nice.”

Guardiola rotated his squad following the midweek win at Real Madrid, reinstalling Aguero and Raheem Sterling into the lineup and handing rare starts to Foden and Stones.

Dean Smith vowed to make wholesale changes to his Villa lineup when his side fell 2-0 at Southampton last weekend, but he only dropped Kortney Hause and Ezri Konsa from his outfield as he reverted to a back-four. Orjan Nyland retained his position as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper in the League Cup.

And Smith drew a response from his ranks. The Lions’ boss felt aggrieved at Rodri’s header due to it following a dubious awarding of a corner kick to Manchester City, but the relegation candidates battled back to half the deficit with a goal from January signing Samatta.

GLYN KIRK / AFP / Getty

Stones somehow managed to slip under an aerial ball, giving Anwar El Ghazi the time and space to execute a wonderful dipping cross onto Samatta’s head.

City were the stronger team for much of the game, but Villa appeared poised to capitalize on any further errors from the City backline. It required some marvellous athleticism from 36-year-old Bravo to keep Bjorn Engels’ header out near the death.

“I could tell from the players’ body language that they were ready for this game and I was really pleased with the reaction (to going 2-0 down),” Smith told the media after the final whistle. “Bravo pulled off a great save to stop the game from going to extra-time.”

Villa, who were seeking their first major trophy since beating Leeds United in the 1996 League Cup final, return to top-flight action against Leicester City on March 9.

City, meanwhile, take on Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup and face Manchester United and Burnley in the Premier League before playing out their second leg with Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16.

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