Pep Guardiola hailed an “incredible performance” from Raheem Sterling, despite the forward’s goal drought continuing in Manchester City’s EFL Cup final triumph.
City won the EFL Cup for a fourth consecutive season and record-equalling eighth time overall, matching Liverpool’s haul, with defender Aymeric Laporte the unlikely goal hero.
Sterling had five goal attempts – the most of any City player – but did not hit the target with any of those, and he has not scored for the club since netting in the 1-0 win against Arsenal in February.
However, the England winger was certainly lively, troubling Serge Aurier with his pace and trickery from early in the contest, when he teed up Phil Foden for a chance that went begging.
That was to become a theme, with City creating but missing a host of chances before Laporte met Kevin De Bruyne’s free-kick and powered a header past Hugo Lloris in the 82nd minute.
In terms of xG – Opta’s expected goals metric – City had a score of 3.63 while Tottenham’s total was just 0.06, reflecting the stark difference between the sides.
Asked about Sterling, Guardiola said the former Liverpool player had been “amazing”.
“He showed the opponent we came here to win the game in the first actions. He was incredibly aggressive,” said the City boss. “Aurier is a fast defender and they are incredibly good at defending the shot and the blocks. Lloris made some incredible saves but he was brilliant.”
Guardiola is sure Sterling will soon start scoring regularly, saying: “We have no doubts of that, the mentality is great, he trained well and he made an incredible performance. He deserves it, he created a lot of chances and made a couple of assists for Ilkay [Gundogan]. All the players were brilliant.”
Having become the first manager to win the competition in four consecutive years, Guardiola said City’s success was “more than well deserved”. There was no denying that, with Tottenham a blunt force going forward despite Harry Kane being passed fit to start after his recent ankle scare.
Now, though, City have more targets in their sights, with the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain coming up on Wednesday. Guardiola admitted that “one eye is always on the Champions League”.
And, as the Spaniard pointed out, they need just two more wins from five games to wrap up the Premier League title following Manchester United’s 0-0 draw at Leeds United earlier on Sunday.
“Now we just rest and prepare for the semi-final, the first leg against PSG,” Guardiola said. “And after we are two games away to try to win the most important title of the season.
“The Premier League is the nicest one and the one I am proud of the most. We are so close. Marcelo Bielsa’s team made a good draw against United so we are 10 points clear and need two victories.
“Between the crazy schedule, between games against PSG, we’re going to try to win the first one against Crystal Palace.”
Guardiola also praised those members of his squad who played no part against Tottenham, including Eric Garcia, the 20-year-old defender who is expected to join Barcelona at the end of the season.
“I would say he is one of my favourite players,” former Barcelona head coach Guardiola said. “I’d love to have 15 Eric Garcias, for the way he conducts himself, his behaviour.
“He helps the manager and the backroom staff all the time. When people say the people are unsatisfied if [they] dont play, I think of Eric.
“Most of the time he’s not on the bench because he’s going to move to Barcelona, I hope so, but I think of them. It’s tough, but it is what it is.”
Tottenham’s Ryan Mason became the youngest manager to take charge of a side in an EFL Cup final at 29 years and 316 days, with the caretaker boss surpassing Gianluca Vialli, who was 33 when he guided Chelsea in the 1998 final.
It was not to be for Mason, who has taken over from the sacked Jose Mourinho and said it was “tough” to see the chance of a trophy slip by.
“The players believed and gave absolutely everything,” Mason said. “I thought we rode our luck at times in the first half but defended well, blocked well, but we knew at times we’d have to ride our luck and they’d have long spells of possession.
“It was disappointing to concede from a set-play, but I can’t fault the players. They’ve had a change of manager, a game in midweek, two or three days to prepare for this and work in a completely different way. I’ve so much pride in those players. They believed and gave everything.”