Manchester City produced a defensive masterclass to knock their biggest rivals out of the Carabao Cup and reach the final for the sixth time in eight seasons.
Second-half goals from John Stones and Fernandinho were enough to see the visitors through despite a spirited display from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men. Here’s what we learned from City’s latest derby victory…
Dias is World Class…
I don’t think many people predicted the start Ruben Dias would have at Manchester City. At the time a lot of us wrongly believed that he was a backup option after we didn’t sign Koulibaly or Diego Carlos, but since then it’s emerged that Benfica’s surprise elimination from the Champions League was the only reason we could afford the Portuguese centre-back in the first place.
I was expecting something like Otamendi and we got something more like Kompany. And that’s no slight on Otamendi, who was a great servant to the club, but I had no idea we were signing someone who was already so good at such a young age and even looks ready to be a leader in the team. It’s been a long time since I saw rival fans praising a City defender like they were on social media after the win at Old Trafford. He seems to have everything you could want from a centre-back, and barring injury could keep going for a decade. He’s given us plenty of reason to get excited.
… And His Partner’s Pretty Great Too
Who saw this coming? Following one of the most impressive resurgences I’ve ever seen, it’s not Aymeric Laporte but John Stones who’s been the other half of the best City defence in recent memory. The Barnsley Beckenbauer has been living up to his name with a string of imperious performances, and kept that form going into the derby to help us come away with a clean sheet.
He also joined the elite group of players to score in a Manchester derby, which is always guaranteed to go down well with fans and live long in the memory. Only six of the current squad have ever netted against United, and it was Stones’ sixth goal for the club. Now he’s just looking for that elusive Premier League goal in sky blue, but if he keeps playing this well, nobody will mind how many he scores.
Pep Might Have Cracked Strikerless Formations
At Barcelona, playing without a natural striker in big games was the norm for many years under Guardiola. But Barcelona had Lionel Messi. Here at City, it’s usually been reserved for times when both Agüero and Jesus are out injured (alarmingly often), and usually hasn’t gone all that well.
In the last two matches, though, we’ve gone without a designated forward and still been able to carve out chances. Against Chelsea it was Kevin de Bruyne who tore apart Thiago Silva’s defence with his intelligent positioning, but in the derby Riyad Mahrez played in that spot. And while I wasn’t a fan of the Algerian’s performance in particular, the rest of the team seemed to cope well with such a shape, and it confused the hell out of Maguire and Lindelof, just as intended. I still prefer watching us play with Agüero or Jesus in the team, but we finally seem to have a viable alternative.
Fernandinho Still Has a Part to Play
Rodri has bags of potential, but at the moment you can’t beat Fernandinho. He’s just unbelievable, bossing the derby like he was still twenty-eight. I can’t overstate the value of having someone like him in the team.
All night he was letting opponents know he was there, winding up Bruno Fernandes with his persistent marking and playing smart passes as well as ever. Then came the late goal to wrap it up, his first for us in a long time, and a fantastic volley at that. It was the kind of performance that makes me wonder how we’ll ever be able to replace Fernandinho effectively with someone who can do all the things he does. I’m not sure such a player exists.
Spurs – and Mourinho – Await…
Our win has earned us a place in the final for the fourth year running, except this year, after beating Arsenal, Chelsea and Aston Villa in the previous three, our reward is a tie at Wembley with Spurs. This is a huge match for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the old rivalry between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola is sure to get plenty of media attention leading up to the match. But there’s also the added drama of a Spurs team desperate to win their first trophy, and players like Harry Kane and Son Heung-min constantly linked with moves away from the club if they don’t feel they can get their hands on some silverware in London.
And with this year’s final postponed to April, a win in it could be the perfect springboard for City to go ahead and clinch an unlikely Premier League win- if we’re still in a good position by then.
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