There is a real football controversy to speak of, and with that perhaps the most authentic feeling that the sport is beginning to straighten out after the pandemic and more specifically after a week in which football was on the brink of civil war. Aymeric Laporte scored the vital goal against Tottenham with eight minutes remaining, to secure Manchester City their fourth consecutive League Cup, but there were serious doubts as to whether he should have been on the field.
Laporte was booked in the last minute of the first half for a cynical trip to Lucas Moura who avoided a counterattack, but had somehow escaped a similar penalty for a nearly identical infraction early in the half. Had he received a yellow card earlier, of course, he probably wouldn’t have done the same challenge later, but that will do little to quell the feeling of complaint from Tottenham fans wondering if the winner of the match should have been on the field. . .
It was an afternoon in which several important stories came together. This was apparently the first National Cup final of the season, played just a week after Chelsea snuffed out hopes of a City quadruple in the FA Cup semi-final. But it was much, much more than that.
For starters, fans returned for the first time since March last year when a game played in England featured fans from both sides. There were 8,000 scattered around Wembley, just a few among the 80,000 red plastic seats, but even that small proportion was a welcome sight. The noise from the crowd on the television broadcast was real, and there was a real sense of normalcy left; all too normal given that a failure at the points meant that the two main subway lines that served Wembley were severely disrupted.
Then there was the very strange situation the Spurs found themselves in after the firing of José Mourinho on Monday. Having brought in a so-called “born winner” at exorbitant cost to turn potential into silverware, come what may, the club decided a week before a grand final that it had a better chance of success with a 29-year-old without a previous trainer. experience than with Mourinho.
Ryan Mason, three years after a serious head injury ended his playing career, should have dominated the preparation for the final, only his second game as a coach, but this whole week has been overshadowed by the proposal of the Superliga, which would have included both City and Spurs, and their collapse.
Spurs fans rallied against current owners Enic ahead of Wednesday’s league win over Southampton; City fans seem less upset about their owners, perhaps because they seemed reluctant partners in the new league and were the first to formally withdraw their club. There have also been suggestions that he was lobbying by the UAE government, which of course includes Abu Dhabi, whose sovereign wealth fund backs the City, which helped persuade UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to speak at against the Super League.
There were few protests at Wembley, the rather optimistic mood ahead of a Cup final, particularly one where fans were allowed. The game itself was almost entirely dominated by City, who had one chance after another, but wasted so many that the idea began to emerge that maybe this just wouldn’t be their day. Not for the first time recently, City’s lack of a suitable scorer, with Sergio Agüero handicapped by injury and Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling off-duty, was exposed.
Not that this was a wasteful issue, as such. Perhaps City could have been more clinical, but Hugo Lloris made a series of good saves and Toby Alderweireld made a remarkable block to deflect Phil Foden’s shot to the post. The threat Tottenham posed was almost entirely at halftime, but as time passed the pressure never abated. The winner finally came from a left corner, with a powerful header from Laporte after he landed a run on Moussa Sissoko.
The quad is no longer possible, but with the league almost won, City’s attention now shifts to Wednesday and a Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain. For the rest of football, however, there is a sense of relief that the game went ahead after last Sunday’s riots, and that the return of at least some fans seemed to go smoothly. Little by little, the game returns to normal.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.