LONDON – Even as the investigations continue into how Manchester City's squad was funded, its ability to collect trophies is undisputed.
Particularly the League Cup.
It's only the secondary cup competition but it is the first major piece of silverware handed out each season in England. And for the third consecutive season, it was Pep Guardiola's side picking it up at Wembley thanks to a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday secured by first-half goals from Sergio Agüero and Rodri.
“Since we won the first title against Arsenal,” Guardiola reflected on the 2018 League Cup final, “we have played 11 competitions and won eight ... so that’s a lot. It’s not just about one title, it’s to show every game to try to win and that’s the best thing we can give for our club.”
Not since Liverpool in the 1980s has a hat trick of League Cups been achieved. Liverpool will prevent City achieving such a three-peat in the Premier League, with the top two separated by 22 points.
But City has Liverpool in its sights for a bigger prize — dethroning them as Champions League winners. It could be the last opportunity before a two-season ban from European competition that is being challenged in court by City lawyers.
The strength's squad — the most expensively assembled in football history — was clear against Villa at Wembley. Eight players could be changed from a lineup that beat Real Madrid 2-1 in the Champions League last-16 first leg on Wednesday and still see off Villa, not with ease but comfortably enough.
Agüero struck the opener after 20 minutes after Rodri's cross was headed into his path by Phil Foden.
Rodri was on target himself with a header on the half-hour after Ilkay Gundogan swung in a corner that should have actually been a Villa goal kick.
A despairing Prince William was soon seen celebrating though in an executive box when a slip by John Stones allowed Anwar El Ghazi to set up Mbwana Samatta to pull one back in the 41st.
It ensured City didn't run away with this game, but the struggling Birmingham side could find no way of forcing the game to extra time.
For the fourth time in five seasons, City lifted the League Cup.
“At the end, we suffered a little bit,” Rodri said. “We knew we could never give up.”
PREMIER LEAGUE ACTION
Before the League Cup final, the focus was on the race for Champions League qualification. City's European ban adds both intrigue and uncertainty given the appeal.
Fifth place will secure a place in the elite competition if second-place City can't overturn the punishment for breaching of UEFA financial regulations.
Manchester United will be needing City to fail at the Court of Arbitration for Sport as it is in fifth place and was held 1-1 at Everton on Sunday to sit three points behind Chelsea.
United goalkeeper David De Gea's poor clearance allowed Dominic Calvert-Lewin to put Everton in front. Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was then at fault for the equalizer with poor positioning allowing Bruno Fernandes to net. Calvert-Lewin was denied a stoppage-winner winner when VAR found Gylfi Sigurdsson to be offside.
“Fair enough, he's in an offside position but then it takes a deflection, the keeper is going the other way and he's got his legs out of the way,” Calvert-Lewin said. “The keeper is never going to save the ball so I'm not sure what it is.”
Wolverhampton is only behind United on goal difference after moving ahead of Tottenham with a 3-2 victory at the north London club.
Tottenham threw away the lead twice. Matt Doherty canceled out Steven Bergwijn's opener and Diogo Jota restored parity after Serge Aurier restored Tottenham's lead. Raul Jimenez grabbed the winner.
"They had the correct mentality," Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho said, “and I think we were punished.”
Wolves is coping well with the demands of a season that started in July with the Europa League qualifying rounds.
“I was pleased with the way we finished the game," Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo said. "The levels of energy were there, so good performance of the boys.”