Manchester City made it hard work out of what was needed to ward off a lacklustre Liverpool side, as the Blues knocked out the defending Carabao Cup champions 3-2.
Nathan Ake scored the winner as City look to win their fifth League Cup in six seasons.
Pep Guardiola was forced to start a makeshift XI due to the Brazilian, English and Portuguese contingents of the squad making late returns to Manchester after their World Cup quarterfinal exits.
Stefan Ortega started, Rico Lewis was given another start at right back, and Aymeric Laporte, Manuel Akanji and Ake filled out the rest of the defence. Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne filled in the midfield. Erling Haaland sat up front, flanked by Riyad Mahrez to his right and Cole Palmer to his left.
City had an easy opportunity to take the lead just 19 seconds in when Gundogan found Haaland making a run in behind the Liverpool defence. The ball was perfectly placed and caused Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher to come well off his line, but the Norwegian’s effort was poor, and he skied his attempted shot over the post.
Five minutes later, City had another golden opponent in to take the lead. Haaland was set free down the right side and squared it to Palmer, who could’ve slotted it home with his right foot but attempted to use his stronger left and sent the shot wide.
It was beginning to look like the City of old, but their lack of finishing was only temporary.
The Blues finally struck in the 10th minute when Haaland cut across an unaware Joe Gomez to calmly finish De Brunye’s cross. Haaland’s goal capped off a phenomenal opening start which saw City put Liverpool under sustained pressure.
Liverpool evened the score in the 20th minute when Fabio Carvalho was left unmarked for an easy tap-in. For a brief moment, the City defence switched off, and the Reds took advantage.
City had their best opportunity to retake the lead in the 36th minute. De Bruyne cut in from the right wing and found Gundogan making a late run into the box, but his effort was saved. Moments later, De Bruyne had the ball in his favoured space on the right wing and launched a curling ball into the box. Ake was left unmarked, but his diving header was sent straight at Kelleher for an easy parry. Once again, the familiar feeling of missed chances started to reappear.
Darwin Nunez nearly grabbed the go-ahead goal in the closing seconds of the first half. Nunez was left unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, but his volleyed effort went just wide of the post. It would have been a cruel goal for City to succeed after a dominating first-half display.
City and Liverpool ended the first half tied at one, with the Blues feeling hard done by their performance.
The second half started with a flurry of goals. Mahrez struck in the 47th minute when an over-the-top ball from Rodri gave him a yard of space on the right wing; the Algerian had an excellent first touch and easily placed his curling effort in the side netting.
However, Liverpool once again were able to quickly equalise. But instead of needing 10 minutes, the Reds only needed one. In the first sequence of play following the goal, Liverpool struck on the counter. Nunez easily won a foot race against Laporte and found Salah making a run in behind Ake for an easy finish.
However, City were not rattled by the attempted comeback. They continued to keep Liverpool pinned back deep in their own half and finally got another chance in the 58th minute.
Following a set piece, De Bruyne had the ball on the left wing and launched another swerving ball in over the Liverpool defence. Ake made a late run and was left unmarked for a clean header past the diving keeper. It was a deserved goal and gave the Blues the lead for the final time.
After the goal, John Stones came on in the 61st minute to replace Akanji.
Liverpool had their golden chance to equalise in the 72nd minute. Nunez made a run in behind the City defence and was given a free run through on goal. The Uruguayan had what appeared to be an unlimited about of time to compose himself for his effort on goal. But the €100m striker squandered yet another chance, and his effort went a few yards wide of the post.
It was a tough night for Nunez. The former Benfica man did well to set up Salah for Liverpool’s second goal, but there were a handful of squandered chances.
Following the miss, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish came on to replace Haaland and Palmer.
City had the opportunity to extend their lead in the 84th minute. De Bruyne collected a poor Liverpool clearance at the top of the box and fired in a curling effort that was parried away from the goal line by Fabinho. Foden collected the rebound, but his near-post effort was saved by Kelleher.
It was the last effort on goal for either side, as both sides look exhausted after completing their first competitive club match in over a month.
Shortly after full-time, City drew Southampton away in the quarterfinal, with the game to take place in the week commencing January 9th. It was also confirmed that Ruben Dias will face up to a month on the sidelines after sustaining a hamstring/thigh injury at the World Cup.
Man of the Match
Once again, Kevin De Bruyne was the best man on the pitch. He finished tonight’s outing with two assists but easily could've added a few more to his tally with some better finishing from his teammates. It’s positive to see De Bruyne in good form after a lacklustre World Cup performance. And with the business end of the season approaching, the push for four trophies continues.
Ortega - 7: Solid distribution; wasn’t at fault for either of the goals. Good performance from the back-up.
Lewis - 9: Great performance by the 18-year-old. Every time he plays he looks more and more comfortable. Very tidy on the ball and played virtually mistake-free football. Bright future.
Akanji - 7: He hasn’t looked as strong as he did at the beginning of the season, but it was a decent performance. No complaints.
Laporte - 8: Typical Laporte performance, great distribution, had a few key defensive stops, was involved in one of the goals against City but wasn’t exactly at fault for it either. He’ll still get stick for it on Twitter, though.
Ake - 8: It’s not easy to constantly switch back and forth from centre back to left back, but Ake would have you believe it is. Could’ve done better for Salah’s goal but made up for it with the winner.
Rodri - 8: Solid as always, kept the game moving and squashed a few Liverpool counters. Typical Rodri.
Gundogan - 8: Feel bad for Gundo, should’ve had an assist in the opening moments and a great leg save from Kelleher took his goal away. Good performance.
De Brunye - 9: Man of the Match. Should’ve had a few more assists, and Fabinho stole a goal from him. Great performance, great distribution. We’re fortunate to watch him play.
Palmer - 8: Good. showed flashes of his ability despite being hampered by his weaker foot on the left wing. He deserves more minutes on the right.
Haaland - 8: Should’ve done much better with his first effort, and deserved an assist a few minutes later. Didn’t get a ton of opportunities other than his well-taken goal. Welcome back, Erling.
Mahrez - 7: His well-taken goal saved his overall performance. Incredible touch to create separation from Robertson, with Klopp describing the goal as world-class.
Written by: @IVIeehan
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