LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester City continued their imperious stranglehold over the League Cup with a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa in the final on Sunday as goals from Sergio Aguero and Rodri secured the trophy for a third straight season.
City, who have now won the competition in five of the last seven campaigns, dominated much of the Wembley clash and should have been home and dry when they took a 2-0 lead after half an hour with Aguero’s strike in the 20th minute and a Rodri header.
Yet Tanzanian striker Mbwana Samatta headed home for Villa just before halftime, following a bizarre slip from City defender John Stones, to fuel their hopes of a comeback.
The second half failed to live up to the first, however, with few clear chances until City keeper Claudio Bravo pulled off a remarkable save to push Bjorn Engels’ header against the post and out in the 87th minute.
City are the first side to win the competition for three seasons in a row since Liverpool claimed four straight titles from 1981 to 1984. City have won it seven times and trail record holders Liverpool who have lifted the trophy on eight occasions.
“Three times in a row is a big success. It’s the consistency, incredible,” said City’s Spanish coach Pep Guardiola.
“It was awesome. We struggled in the first minutes and the last ones. They had two clear chances in the first minutes but we played really well, especially in the second half.”
The victory dispelled some of the disappointment that has hung over the club after they were hit by a two-season European ban for allegedly flouting UEFA’s financial rules.
While City’s Premier League title defence is in tatters, as they trail leaders Liverpool by 22 points, Guardiola’s side remain in the hunt for a treble which would be the envy of most clubs, with the FA Cup and Champions League still up for grabs.
City, who visit Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday, had come into the final buoyed by their midweek Champions League last 16, first-leg victory at Real Madrid and there was a spring in their step as the game quickly settled into a predictable pattern of City dominance.
Aguero looped a header over the bar after 10 minutes but the formidable Argentine goal-getter, who had been dropped for City’s trip to Madrid, did not have to wait long to get on the scoresheet after 20 minutes.
A lofted ball to the far post by Spain international Rodri was headed back across goal by Phil Foden for Aguero to volley into the turf past goalkeeper Orjan Nyland and into the net.
It was Aguero’s 10th goal in his last six starts against Villa and a setback for the Midlands side who looked unlikely to recover when Rodri doubled the lead 10 minutes later.
The Spaniard powered a downward header into the net from Ilkay Gundogan’s corner, which left a bitter taste for Villa who felt the set piece should not have been awarded.
A two-goal lead usually spells the end for City’s opponents, but a bizarre slip from Stones gave Dean Smith’s Villa side an unlikely route back into the match.
Under no pressure, the England centre back tumbled to the turf under a lofted ball, allowing Anwar El Ghazi to dash down the left and cross for Villa’s Samatta to find the net with a diving header.
That should have revved up Villa for a rousing second-half display but in truth they never really got going until it was too late.
The majority of the chances in the second half went City’s way with Foden flashing an effort just wide, Rodri having a header palmed away by Nyland and Aguero thrashing a volley into the side netting before Villa found some late momentum.
As the clock ticked round towards 88 minutes Engels rose high to power a header goalwards but City keeper Bravo, starting instead of usual first choice Ederson, palmed his effort onto the post and away.
“We threw caution to the wind at the end,” said Villa manager Smith. “I actually thought it (Engels’ header) was in from where I was, but we were playing against a top team.”
Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Ken Ferris