MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Holders Manchester City took a big step towards another League Cup showpiece with a 3-1 win over Manchester United in their semi-final, first leg at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
City outclassed their neighbours in the first half, going in 3-0 at the break with goals from Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and an Andreas Pereira own goal before United regrouped and avoided what could have been a more emphatic defeat.
“We could have gone in four or five up at halftime, we had the chances. They pressed us higher in the second half, we got tired but overall we are happy,” said Bernardo Silva.
The hosts suffered a blow before kick off with their 80 million pounds central defender Harry Maguire failing a fitness test and Phil Jones was handed a rare start.
City manager Pep Guardiola opted to play without a recognised striker, giving midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva licence to push forward centrally.
With Raheem Sterling and Mahrez on the wings, the approach worked superbly against a flimsy-looking defence.
It was a brilliant strike from Bernardo Silva that put City ahead in the 17th minute, the winger cutting in from the right before unleashing a superb shot into the far, top corner.
The busy Portugal international then created City’s second in the 33rd, collecting a poor headed clearance from Victor Lindelof and dancing past a challenge before threading the ball to Mahrez who rounded goalkeeper David de Gea and slotted home.
City then punished United with a counter-attack which ended with De Bruyne leaving Jones on the ground and blasting goalwards before De Gea’s parry ricocheted off United midfielder Pereira into his own net after 38 minutes.
United looked more solid after the introduction of midfielder Nemanja Matic at the break and got a foothold in the tie through a 70th-minute goal from Marcus Rashford.
The England striker was picked out by a perfectly-weighted pass from Mason Greenwood and coolly slipped the ball past keeper Claudio Bravo.
The last 15 teams to win away from home in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final have all progressed to the final but Guardiola said the tie was far from over.
“Of course Manchester United can come back. Last year here they lost to PSG and they qualified,” he said, referring to United’s 2-0 home defeat by Paris St-Germain in the Champions League last 16 which they overturned with a 3-1 win in Paris.
“They have the shirt which means history and pride,” added the Spaniard, whose City team lost 2-1 to their rivals at the Etihad in December’s Premier League clash.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said his side had not performed well in the crucial period after City’s opening goal.
“From their first goal and especially the second, we struggled to get to grips with them. A good reaction second half, but first half until they scored it is was back and forth. We didn’t cope with the setback well enough,” he said.
Leicester City face Aston Villa in the first leg of the other semi-final on Wednesday.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris and Toby Davis
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