MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Manchester City relied on a controversial decision by officials and another decisive late goal from Sergio Aguero to set up an English League Cup final against Liverpool on Wednesday.
City came from behind to beat Everton 3-1 in a compelling second leg and seal a 4-3 win on aggregate.
Aguero grabbed the clinching goal from a header in the 76th minute to complete City’s recovery at Etihad Stadium, but Everton was left aggrieved that City’s second goal — scored by substitute Kevin De Bruyne to level the semifinal at 3-3 — was allowed to stand. The ball appeared to be out of play when Raheem Sterling sent in a cut-back that De Bruyne steered home.
“When the ball is out of play in the modern game, you don’t expect that to be missed,” Everton manager Roberto Martinez said. “It’s hurtful and unfair.”
City manager Manuel Pellegrini was more diplomatic, saying: “I just saw it. Maybe it was a mistake of the referee, but I think Everton cannot complain about the referee.”
De Bruyne changed the game after coming on as a 66th-minute substitute, scoring within four minutes and then providing the assist for Aguero’s 16th goal of the season. However, the Belgium midfielder ended the match being carried off on a stretcher — with apparent medial ligament damage to his right knee, according to Pellegrini — after falling awkwardly in a tackle in injury time.
It was the only negative on the night for City, which is still chasing trophies on four fronts domestically and in Europe. City will head to Wembley Stadium on Feb. 28 seeking a fourth League Cup title, most recently winning it in 2014.
“It will be a brilliant final,” predicted Pellegrini, whose side was thrashed 4-1 by Liverpool at home in the Premier League in November.
Back to full fitness after six weeks out before Christmas, Aguero has scored seven goals in his last seven games in all competitions and looks back to his prolific best. City would be lost without him.
“Aguero you saw reach a really sharp level,” Martinez said, “. . . but I feel it would be defended differently if it had been 1-1.”
Martinez kept returning to City’s second goal in his post-match news conference, saying it “killed our opportunity.” The Spanish coach is coming under increasing pressure as results continue to go against his side, which is 12th in the 20-team Premier League.