Manchester United earned a 0-1 victory over Manchester City at the Etihad Wednesday night, but the win was not enough to reach the Carabao Cup final as Manchester City still advanced with a 3-2 aggregate score. City will go on to face Aston Villa in the final.
After shelling its FA Cup competition four days ago, Manchester United lined up for the second straight match with a three-man backline because what works against Tranmere Rovers surely works against reigning-back-to-back Premier League Champions, Manchester City.
Inspired by talks that United were closing in on a new goalkeeping prospect, Southend United’s Nathan Bishop, David de Gea played lights out throughout the match and especially during the opening onslaught from City. Predictably, United conceded a lot of possession to a superior City team, and the Spaniard found himself under siege as City striker, Sergio Agüero — who didn’t play in the previous two derbies this season — was constantly in scoring position. However, de Gea was loose and made saves with his hands and feet.
Another maligned player finding vintage form was Nemanja Matić. The Serbian veteran put in a strong shift when he was on the pitch (more on that later) and he provided the go-ahead goal in the 35th minute. After United drew a foul on the left wing, Fred delivered a free kick that was deflected by the City line — an occurrence not unique during this match. However, the ball found its way to Matić who was near the top of the box. The midfielder caught the ball on the volley and tucked a laser beam into the right side past Claudio Bravo to take the lead.
City would have its chances to equalize in the first and second halves, but in the two instances that City found the back of the net, the goals were quickly and correctly ruled offside. Raheem Sterling thought he had it in the first half after some lightning quick interplay in the United defensive half. But the Englishman was too quick with his release and was several meters offside. Deep into the second half, Agüero thought he killed off the match, but he also timed his run incorrectly, despite it being much closer than the Sterling attempt.
United looked more confident in the second half and were looking to channel another Paris-like comeback when the game plan was flipped completely upside down. Matić was on a yellow entering the final quarter of the match, and he was previously warned by the official that his next foul would be his last. Sure enough, in the 76th minute, Matić was forced to commit a professional foul to kill off a City counter attack and he saw a second yellow card soon after.
Down to 10 men, United would switch to a four-man backline and still created some pressure, but the second goal to equalize on aggregate never came. Harry Maguire drew a foul at the top of the box in the 86th minute to give United its best opportunity at goal in the half. Inexplicably, Fred took the direct kick over Juan Mata who came into the match seven minutes prior — probably for that particular situation. The Brazilian’s attempt immediately found the City wall, and United’s last attempts at a comeback fizzled out.
With the odds stacked against United after countless injuries and starting the second leg down two goals, the Reds still put in a respectable shift which was encouraging to see after the Burnley result just a week ago. Better still, United and de Gea recorded a clean sheet — at City no less — and can take some level of momentum into the weekend despite crashing out of the semifinal of a cup competition.
More concerning, United did not walk out of the Etihad unscathed as Mason Greenwood was subbed off at the start of the second half. Now, the Reds will have to anxiously wait, for what feels like the 600th time this season, to find out if one of its most important contributors will miss an extended period of time.
United return home to face Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, Feb. 1 in the Premier League and will look to earn an important three points. The match against United’s direct rivals for a top four finish could also mark the debut of United’s newest signing, Bruno Fernandes.