For something he doesn’t much care about, Pep Guardiola has a curious knack of winning the League Cup. The Manchester City manager has been open about his belief that the secondary domestic cup competition needlessly clutters the calendar, but after Sunday’s 2–1 victory over Aston Villa, he has now won it three times in a row, while City has won it in five of the last seven finals. If you include the Community Shield, as Guardiola does, City has won eight of the last nine domestic trophies.
It was not a procession of a final, which perhaps underlined what has gone awry for City this season. As City swept into a two-goal lead within half an hour, this looked like being another anti-climax, but a barely explicable error from John Stones allowed Villa back into the game. City, suddenly, while still dominating, looked a little flustered. Chances were missed, passes went astray. This is how it has been for the past few months, a team that habitually runs games through midfield finding it unable to take advantage, squandering chances and undermining itself with defensive errors.
On a weekend on which 19 in the Premier League had beaten top, and 20 had beaten third, the possibility that 18 might beat second in the Carabao Cup final seemed perhaps less outlandish than it usually would have done. And had Anwar El-Ghazi not headed a very presentable chance over after three minutes, perhaps it would have been a different story.
Perhaps. But the truth is that City was better than Villa. It is far, far better than Villa. Vast resources intelligently deployed has made it a formidable side and the majority of the Premier League simply cannot compete. That Villa found a way to make it a battle was testament to its resolve but this was a dogged, exhausting rearguard action.