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Original article written on January 6 2021.*

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Manchester United 0-2 Manchester City

It was a tale of fours in Manchester as one giant fell to a fourth successive semi-final defeat, while the other booked their ticket to a fourth successive Carabao Cup final.

The second Manchester derby of the season saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United fall to a fourth cup semi-final defeat in as many attempts since the Norwegian took charge, echoing results from last season when the Red Devils lost in the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Europa League semi-finals.

On the other hand, it saw Pep Guardiola’s love affair with the Carabao Cup continue, as he guided his Manchester City side to a fourth successive final, where he will be a seeking a fourth successive victory in the competition, against his arch-rival Jose Mourinho, who is the joint-most successful manager in the competition’s history with four triumphs.

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Whoever said football wasn’t a numbers game?

Nevertheless, it turned out to be a comfortable evening for the visitors, as goals from John Stones and Fernandinho booked their tickets to the final on April 25th.

The rejuvenated Stones put City ahead shortly after the restart following some poor United defending from a set-piece, with Fernandinho putting the game to bed in the 83rd minute with a first-time volley from outside the box after Aaron Wan-Bissaka could only head the ball away from a corner into the Brazilian’s path.

Before the game City paid homage to Colin Bell, walking out in retro number eight shirts in honour of the Man City legend.

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Despite sitting joint top of the Premier League, United were second best and struggled to find any rhythm to disrupt Guardiola’s men.

However, that isn’t to say United didn’t hold their own. The opening 45 minutes saw an enthralling end to end contest which saw both sides with disallowed goals, and both sides go close without scoring.

Marcus Rashford almost got the home side off to a flyer, netting inside three minutes as his shot squirmed through 25-year-old Zack Steffan’s grasp. But he had timed his run too early and was flagged for offside.

VAR was introduced into the competition for the first time this season and was put to work instantly, with a total of three goals disallowed for offside. The second of which came courtesy of Manchester City, as İlkay Gündoğan poked home cross, only to be pulled back for the same offence as Rashford.

The next battle of the derby involved the two primary creators of both teams. Nine minutes in, Bruno Fernandes was played in on the edge of the box by Scott McTominay but saw his curling effort palmed away by Steffan. Up the other end four minutes later Kevin De Bruyne went even closer, finding a similar position after being played in by Raheem Sterling and rattling the post with his knuckleball effort.

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Phil Foden had his own piece of the pie when he also found the back of Dean Henderson’s net, only to be guilty of the same offence as Gundogan and Rashford.

A total of eight shots between the two teams with just one on target failed to highlight the high tempo of the opening 45, but whoever could draw first blood would be able to wrestle control of the game away from their adversary.

Consequently, it was City who drew first blood. United’s old Achilles heel of defending set-plays once again came back to haunt them, as Harry Maguire allowed the ball to run past him, giving the unmarked Stones an easy tap in at the far post.

Maguire had been solid before his error and continued to be United’s best defender on the night, but could not match the defensive partnership of Stones and Ruben Dias, who have provided City with the meanest defence in the Premier League in terms of goals conceded.

The pair have conceded just once in the last eight games they have started together, with Dias impressing, registering the most clearances, the most shots blocked and the joint-most tackles from any City player.

Shortly after the goal, Joao Cancelo whipped in a devilish cross to the far post, but Foden couldn’t quite make contact with the ball to double the lead.

With City dominating both possession and the flow of the game, the 62nd minute saw Riyad Mahrez drive towards goal, switching the ball to his left foot before striking the ball towards the top left of the goal just as he arrived at the D on the edge of the area. But United stopper Henderson was equal to the shot, tipping over the bar with a strong right hand to deny the Algerian.

United had a chance to level the score from a set-piece, but a header from Maguire flashed over the bar, despite no one picking up the Englishman’s run.

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The killing blow came from another set-piece as United failed to clear the ball away from danger, with Fernandinho lurking on the edge of the box from a corner before arrowing his shot into the bottom left, leaving Henderson rooted to the spot.

This ends a seven-game unbeaten run for United in all competitions and condemns them to their first domestic defeat since their 1-0 loss to Arsenal at the start of November.

Meanwhile, Guardiola’s team continue a run of 12 games undefeated with their last defeat coming against the team they will play in the final, Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur, who will be hungry to end their 13 year wait for a major trophy.

Guardiola is looking to win his ninth trophy as Manchester City head coach and his 30th overall.

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Should City win they would also match Liverpool’s record for most consecutive wins in the competition when they won it four times in a row from 1981 to 1984.

Both Manchester Clubs host FA Cup fixtures this weekend, with United facing off against Watford and City facing off against Birmingham before both play teams in the bottom five of the Premier League, looking to make use of their games in hand.

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