Aston Villa came up short in the Carabao Cup final despite a spirited performance at Wembley against Manchester City.
Villa rescued a goal before half-time through Mbwana Ally Samatta but City’s early two-goal advantage was too much for Dean Smith’s side to overturn.
Having found little success in a wing-back system before Villa’s fifth trip to Wembley in six years, Smith reverted back to a more familiar 4-2-3-1 formation.
Orjan Nyland retained his League Cup number one jersey whilst Ahmed Elmohamady and Bjorn Engels were both recalled after a recent Premier League loss to Southampton.
Villa started the better of the two teams with an early chance falling to Anwar El Ghazi inside the box. His header looped onto the top of Claudio Bravo’s net, in a similar move to that of the Dutchman’s Play-Off final opener last season.
Though Villa would find it hard to register many more targets on goal with the limited possession allowed by their superior counterparts on the day.
Against the early run of play, Phil Foden – a surprise inclusion to Pep Guardiola’s starting side – assisted Sergio Aguero on the 20th minute. As he’s managed so often before, the Argentine squeezed the ball past Nyland to open the scoring for a City side lacking in support from the East side of Wembley.
Only ten minutes had passed and City doubled their advantage in controversial circumstances. Villa are prone to a naff decision in a League Cup final… make it two as Ilkay Gundogan’s cross was deflected back off himself, but without the linesman recognising such a clear decision, the German strolled over to take a corner.
Meeting the delivery head-on, Rodri powered past Nyland and a disgruntled Villa backline who knew how costly a decision it was. Nevertheless, defending the corner is a new phase of play which wasn’t treated with the respect it was due.
Fighting back against the side that pulled off a masterclass at the Bernabeu only days before, Villa’s gutsy display served them deserved of clawing back a two-goal deficit.
El Ghazi’s cross from the left flank was met by the arial danger that is Tanzania’s very own Samatta – who like a salmon leapt in the air – Bravo. He stood no chance.
A raucous reception greeted all ten of Villa’s players travelling back to the Wembley west end as the second half drew to a close.
Game on it seemed, but such was the quality of City’s passing patterns, movement and sheer brilliance at times – Villa we’re unable to make a real fist of the 60th League Cup final.
Bjorn Engels came closest to completing the seemingly improbable comeback, but his header was palmed onto the post by goalkeeper Bravo in the dying moments.
A frantic couple of minutes passed but with no fantasy ending, it wasn’t to be Villa’s day. The spirit and willing determination of the performance will, however, stand Villa in good stead to survive what is to come in the Premier League.