Manchester City must capitalize on lessons learned from a fantastic week. Their Champions League win against Real Madrid and Carabao Cup triumph over Aston Villa are, by themselves, impressive achievements, but Pep Guardiola’s must learn from both the good and bad in both games to continue to chase their lofty season-long goals.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City Must Build on Wonderful Week
The Carabao Cup Final
Manchester City played what was overall a pretty solid first half in the Carabao Cup final. As expected, Aston Villa came out flying. It’s what a side like Villa has to do to compete in a cup final. They created some early half-chances, forcing some timely clearances and a header over the bar, but after the early storm, Manchester City were able to take control of the game.
Once they had control, things really opened up. A lot of the first half play came through the left side of the pitch. The David Silva–Raheem Sterling partnership was in fine form in those moments, but most of their combination play was bait for the switch, and it worked to perfection.
For the first goal, possession on the left lead to a pass into Rodri. When he receives the ball, the Villa defence shaded the left-hand side, leaving Phil Foden wide open on the right. The youngster a perfectly-timed run behind the defence, Rodri found him, he headed it back across goal and Sergio Aguero volleyed home.
It’s the type of move that has been missing from City’s attack this season. The quick switch and run beyond the defence was City’s bread and butter for two seasons. Why? Well, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo just aren’t likely to make that run, and without the Silva-Sterling interplay, that run has been better covered this season.
John Stones collapsed under a ball which he should’ve dealt with. In failing to do so, he left City extremely exposed. Anwar El-Ghazi put in a nice cross and Mbwana Samatta headed it home beautifully.
In an otherwise exceptional performance, Stones’ one mistake is all that stands out. The Englishman has never been the best defender, but it seems like every mistake he makes has led to a goal this season. He always has that crucial slip, or poor decision, or bad pass that can cost his team. The hope when City bought him was that with time, that would go away.
Four years later, Stones still makes those crucial mistakes. It is the flaw that will likely lead to the end of his Manchester City career in the summer. That decision wouldn’t necessarily be a product of this performance in particular, but City fans will know exactly why when Stones moves on.
The Second Half
The second half of this game was a completely different story. A tonne of credit has to be given to Aston Villa. They played with the fire and spirit of a team taking their chance at glory. Dean Smith’s team limited Manchester City in the second half. It’s what gave them the chance they had at the end.
When that end came, Manchester City were ready and weathered the storm. The last ten minutes or so really felt like Villa might be able to equalize, and they would’ve if not for the heroics of Claudio Bravo. His time at City will probably be remembered for all the wrong reasons, but Bravo pulled out the biggest save of his City career in the dying moments of a cup final victory. Finishing this game took the type of resilience that can really galvanize the players going forward.
Manchester City Takeaways
There were a few things from this game that Manchester City must build upon. It starts with Raheem Sterling. He had been really struggling before missing a few weeks with an injury, but his combination play with the returning David Silva and Oleksandr Zinchenko was a sight Manchester City fans have sorely missed.
The importance of their combination play to Manchester City’s success is something many have overlooked this season. This game against Villa showed just how valuable their combination play is to opening up the other side of the pitch, where Foden was the beneficiary.
Foden was superb on Sunday. His isolated role on the right-hand side gave him the perfect amount of space to knife through the Villa defence, and before City fans get up-in-arms asking him to play more, it’s better that he keeps playing the amount that he does. Andres Iniesta wasn’t rushed into a starting role at Barcelona nor should Foden; his time will come.