LONDON – A rare goal from Aymeric Laporte produced a familiar outcome: Manchester City winning the League Cup.
For the fourth successive season, Pep Guardiola’s side triumphed in the final of the competition on Sunday with a 1-0 victory over Tottenham.
With Tottenham proving hard to find a way past despite City's domination, it needed Laporte to head in his second goal of the season in the 82nd minute from Kevin De Bruyne's free kick.
“We have to keep this rhythm, this way to win more titles,” center back Laporte said.
What was less familiar for the finalists was officially being allowed to play in front of supporters from both teams. That hasn't happened since March 2020, but pandemic restrictions were eased to allow a crowd of 7,773 inside Wembley to see the first piece of silverware of the season handed out.
“It was good for us to share it with our people," Guardiola said. "There was some good noise. We did it for them. They represented the people at home.”
There was also an unfamiliar sight on the touchline, with 29-year-old rookie coach Ryan Mason managing Tottenham following Jose Mourinho's firing on Monday. A change in manager couldn't end Tottenham's trophy drought since lifting this cup in 2008.
The pain in the dressing room was all-too-familiar for Mason, who was in the Tottenham side that lost the 2015 League Cup final to Chelsea before a head injury ended his career.
“It’s normal that they are hurting," he said, “because it shows they care."
Defending the title completed the first part of a potential treble for Guardiola’s runaway Premier League leaders with a Champions League semifinal match against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.
De Bruyne was among the City players to comfort a tearful Son Heung-min, who was also part of the Tottenham side that lost the 2019 Champions League final.
Tottenham didn't even have a shot on target until the 20th minute, and only tested City goalkeeper Zack Steffen for the first time 80 seconds into the second half when Giovani Lo Celso produced a curling shot. While Harry Kane returned from injury, the striker didn't create a chance let alone produce a shot.
It was goalkeeper Hugo Lloris that Tottenham relied on to keep the score level until the breakthrough came from the set piece. His counterpart — Steffen — became the first American since goalkeeper Brad Friedel with Blackburn in 2002 to win a League Cup final.
Steffen and his City teammates got to celebrate a win in front of their fans for the first time since last year. A quarter of the crowd was made up of City fans — tested in advance for the coronavirus — as part of a pilot event for the return of far larger numbers.
“I was like a kid on Christmas morning, woke up all excited, football for the first time for 13 months," City fan Simon Walker said. “The pandemic has been really difficult, but we’ve got through it and we’re getting out of it, and hopefully this test event will mean we start football next season in a bigger way."
The first crowd at a match since the announcement and collapse of the Super League breakaway attempt by City, Tottenham and 10 other European clubs last week produced no protests inside or outside Wembley.
But there was considerable lingering annoyance at the failed rebellion.
“Football hasn’t been anything without the supporters, has it? It’s just been empty stadiums," Tottenham fan Martin Taylor said. “So I think football supporters need to be taken in consideration and consulted before these sort of breakaways take place.”
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