A stunning early goal by Bernardo Silva and two more later in the first half gave Manchester City a convincing 3-1 win over local rival Manchester United in Tuesday’s League Cup semifinal first leg at Old Trafford, putting City on track to reach the final of the much-maligned competition — which it won in 2018 and ‘2019 — for the third consecutive year.
The long-distance strike from Portuguese midfielder Silva came just 17 minutes into the contest. The right-footed rocket past David de Gea gave the United keeper no chance:
Routinely derided in England as “The Mickey Mouse Cup”, the League Cup ranks well behind the FA Cup— and obviously the all-important Premier League — in terms of domestic and international prestige. But with the Prem title seemingly well out of reach for both Manchester titans, and a trip to Wembley Stadium on the line for the victor, this home-and-home series between the historic enemies, which concludes Jan. 29 at City’s place, always felt like the real deal.
Indeed, the lineups spoke to how much the opener meant to both managers. After using a side made up mostly of reserves in last weekend’s 4-1 FA Cup third round cakewalk over fourth-tier Port Vale, City boss Pep Guardiola went with a far stronger (and believe it or not, more defensive) starting 11 for the short trip across town. Kyle Walker, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling came back in, with forwards Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus on the bench.
United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also reverted to a near-full-strength 11. The main exception was $100 million center back Harry Maguire, who was rested by Solskjaer after tweaking something in Saturday’s scoreless FA Cup stalemate against Wolves. When the whistle blew, though, it was clear that only the visitors had come to play.
Despite setting up without an out-and-out striker, City dominated right out the gates. That continued after Silva’s worldie. It didn’t take long for Riyad Mahrez to double the visitors’ advantage, and with the aggregate lead already well in hand, United’s misery was compounded by an own goal from Andreas Pereira that made it 3-0 before a quarter of the two-leg affair had elapsed. City was so superior in every way that Solskjaer’s lone halftime substitution was designed not to close the gap but rather stop the bleeding, with destroyer Nemanja Matic summoned from the bench in favor of an attacker.
The hosts eventually pulled one back though who other than Marcus Rashford, who has been United’s most reliable performer all season. But the reality is it’s hard to see Rashford’s tally as anything more than a consolation goal. It isn’t likely to make a difference when all is said and done.
Based on the Red Devils’ recent performances, the 3-1 deficit is almost assuredly an insurmountable hole to climb out of, especially away from home. United is off to a concerning 0W-2L-1T start to the 2020s after a respectable December. And in the weeks to come, they face that FA Cup replay against plucky Wolves with a daunting visit to Premier League-leading Liverpool looming before the League Cup semifinal decider against the Sky Blues.
After Tuesday’s result, nobody would blame Solskjaer from prioritizing those contests over the Jan. 29 rematch.