Unlike so much in the world right now, the worst fears were not realised. Manchester City did not crush Aston Villa in a way that was demoralising or humiliating. They won by the smallest margin, a single goal, and were made to work for it until the very end.
Their hold on domestic cup competitions remains, however. This was their third straight League Cup win, to go with last season’s clean sweep. And while it was not a mismatch, it was never really in doubt. Villa were 2-0 down after 30 minutes and only got back into the game became of a John Stones mishap very much against the run of play.
That Villa could have levelled on 87 minutes when a Bjorn Engels header hit the post from a corner, shows the peril of not turning possession into goals. Manchester City dominated but failed to put Villa away; and every team has a puncher’s chance from set pieces.
Sergio Aguero opens the scoring for Manchester City after 20 minutes, slotting the ball into the bottom-corner
Aguero was assisted by Phil Foden, who found the Argentine in the box with a accurate header back across the face of goal
Midfielder Rodri doubles City's advantage after half-an-hour, directing the ball beyond the grasp of Villa keeper Orjan Nyland
The Spanish international celebrates his goal, after capitalising from a corner which shouldn't have been awarded
By the end, Pep Guardiola had introduced Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus and Bernardo Silva – three of the starters from the midweek win over Real Madrid – a sure sign that the game wasn’t going according to plan.
He had lost Sergio Aguero to injury – following a collision volleying what should have been the goal that settled it – and when five minutes injury time was announced the reaction from the Villa end suggested optimism rarely seen against City.
It was not to be, and the best team won, but Villa can take heart from this in their battle against relegation. It wasn’t a win, or a trophy, but it wasn’t a painful day of reckoning either. Against these odds – 7-0 to City was the same price as 1-0 to Villa – it’s about as good as it might get.
Whatever the future holds for Manchester City, a defensive upgrade has to be a priority. They cannot continue like this, dominating game yet always vulnerable to the most random factors, such as John Stones’ inexplicable fall minutes before to half-time. It is hard tio convey just how comfortable City were at that time.
They were two goals clear with Aston Villa reduced to ever most desperate interventions at the back. One saw Bjorn Engels throw himself into the sort of manic block that John Terry used to make – no surprise given he is now Villa’s coach.
It was shaping up to be a repeat of Manchester City’s demolition of Watford by six goals in the last FA Cup final – or Villa’s disappointing FA Cup final appearance in 2015, beaten 4-0 by Arsenal. Yet somehow, Stones undermined that supremacy and allowed Villa to go in a goal behind, and reinvigorated by this unlikely turn of events.
Villa striker Mbwana Samatta pulls a goal back just before half-time with an excellent diving header at the near-post
The Tanzanian got in-between Fernandinho and Oleksandr Zinchenko to give his team a route back into the final at Wembley