Manchester City are heading back to Wembley for their fourth successive Carabao Cup final and the way they got past Manchester United on Wednesday felt like a real statement about their current mood and momentum.
But that was against a Chelsea side who had just hit something of a slump – this time they were up against a resurgent United team who were on a roll and have been flying up the Premier League.
Not for the first time, though, City boss Pep Guardiola got his shape right and his team produced a brilliant performance against their rivals despite missing several key players through illness or injury.
Collectively, City were superb – things went their way because everyone did their job – but there were some big individual displays in there too, from Ruben Dias and John Stones at the back and Fernandinho just in front of them.
As Stones rightly said afterwards, it was a display that City legend Colin Bell, who sadly passed away on Tuesday, would have been proud of.
City’s formation was extremely fluid throughout the 90 minutes but Guardiola started with Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden high and wide and, inside them, Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez were all trying to get forward.
He has gone with two holding midfielders in other big games this season – the stalemate the last time they came to Old Trafford, in December, for example.
This time Fernandinho was on his own, but the other three midfielders were always tracking back to help him and all of them covered plenty of ground. There were times when De Bruyne was collecting the ball off his defenders, but he was also storming down the right-hand side.
It felt like the Belgian was everywhere, but he was in the number 10 position for what was his best moment – when he showed amazing technique to dig the ball out from under him and smash his shot against the post in the first half.
But, for all City’s possession and the way they were moving United around before the break, they were not testing Dean Henderson enough – which was why Guardiola was looking so frustrated. Read from source….