Riyad Mahrez admitted he was “scared” Manchester City would be hit by a Tottenham sucker-punch before Aymeric Laporte’s header secured EFL Cup final glory at Wembley.
A dynamic City performance lacked just one thing as the trophy match entered its last 10 minutes: a goal.
Then Laporte leapt to head Kevin De Bruyne’s free-kick past the busy Hugo Lloris and all was well in City’s world, a fourth successive EFL Cup triumph and the first part of a possible treble secured.
City had 21 goal attempts to earn a 1-0 win while Tottenham had only two, both from outside the penalty area. The return of Harry Kane meant Spurs could cling to the presence of their talisman, but they could not provide him with service in the penalty area.
With 62.2 per cent of possession, it felt inevitable City’s pressure would pay off, and eventually that proved to be the case.
Mahrez told Sky Sports: “It was a tough game. We knew it was going to be tough. We stayed focused, we kept dominating, we kept passing the ball and then we scored and I think we deserved to win.”
The prospect of Tottenham making City pay for their wasted chances was in the back of the mind though, as Mahrez admitted.
“Obviously you’re always scared because it’s a good team, but we were very confident again,” he said. “It’s a very good win. We get the trophy again and we’re very happy.
“Just like the manager said, we focus on every competition we play. It was the final and in a final you have to win, whether you play good or not. I think we played good and we won.”
City are now level with Liverpool as the most successful team in this competition’s history, with eight triumphs.
They look bankers for the Premier League title and have the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain coming up on Wednesday. That is the title City want most of all.
Mahrez said having supporters at Wembley made a “massive difference” to Sunday’s occasion. Only 8,000 were allowed into the stadium that can seat 90,000, as English football begins its slow crawl back to normality, with the COVID-19 pandemic having led to empty stands.
“It was so good to have the fans back,” Mahrez said. “The atmosphere, even with 8,000, was amazing and we’re looking forward to having more fans there.”