Wembley Stadium will host the 60th anniversary Final of the Carabao Cup this weekend, with Aston Villa and Manchester City set to battle it out for the trophy.
Games like these need little in the way of introduction.
There’s a certain magic about seeing the famous arch for the first time, about that walk down Wembley Way and the nervous tension and excitement that are only present when so much is at stake. There’s a ‘special occasion’ feel to these fixtures, and nothing quite compares. In this, the 60th anniversary Final, hero status awaits…
In the case of Aston Villa and Manchester City, that famous arch has become a somewhat familiar sight in recent times. Villa were here, and celebrating, as recently as May – their Championship Play-Off Final triumph over Derby County still fresh in the minds of players, staff and fans alike. In Dean Smith, theirs is a manager who fits two of those three categories; a boyhood Villa fan, he’s well aware of the importance of the Carabao Cup to the five-time winners and has spoken fondly of his memories of watching the club in this competition as a child.
Like the game itself, Villa’s raucous support certainly doesn’t need explaining. Smith credited the Villa Park crowd for its part in getting his side to this stage, particularly during their dramatic Semi-Final second-leg victory over Leicester City, but the fans have been there throughout this season’s memorable journey. The Villans breezed past Crewe Alexandra in Cheshire and Brighton & Hove Albion by the East Sussex seaside, toppled Midlands rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers and saw off European champions Liverpool on the road to Wembley, and the West End of the 90,000 capacity arena will be awash with claret and blue as a result.
The ‘Father of the Football League’, William McGregor, was a Villa man through and through, and his club will compete in the Final of what is the League’s most prestigious competition, bidding to win it for a sixth time.
Manchester City have gone about putting their name to this competition in a different way, by making a merciless habit of lifting the trophy. Winners in three of the last four seasons, including in 2018/19, their Carabao Cup story has been one of spectacular, eye-catching football, outstanding attitude and, ultimately, glory.
The holders return to Wembley as six-time winners, having beaten Chelsea on penalties in last season’s instalment, and the likes of Southampton and Manchester United - over two legs - en route to this year’s Final. Their maiden triumph – a 2-1, extra-time victory over another of Villa’s rivals in West Bromwich Albion - was the first of two for the Citizens in the 1970s. Their second, a win by the same scoreline against Newcastle United, will be remembered for its winning goal, an incredible overhead kick by Dennis Tueart.
That thirst for success has never waned, and is encapsulated by the man in the City hotseat. This Final will see one of the game’s greatest-ever managers, Pep Guardiola, look to add to an already-replete trophy cabinet which features league titles in Spain, Germany and England. At his disposal is an arsenal of talent; the likes of Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and last season’s Alan Hardaker Trophy winner, Bernardo Silva.
City, and this competition, go back a long way, and this is a run they’ll be desperate to extend.
Goalkeepers and defenders aside, Finals are all about goals, and those magic moments which convert players into club legends. Villa are this season’s top scorers in the Carabao Cup, having found the net 19 times on the road to Wembley, and their task is a simple one: outscore the holders. It’s a statistic which adds another layer of intrigue, another sub-plot, to the match. City will be the favourites, and Villa the underdogs, but anything can happen at the home of football.
The first piece of silverware in 2019/20 is finally up for grabs and, while there’s still much to be decided, we can be sure of one thing. On Sunday 1 March 2020, the name of Aston Villa or Manchester City will be engraved onto the trophy once again.