Pep Guardiola said John Stones had proven he belongs at Manchester City after a derby win over United in the EFL Cup semi-finals.

Stones scored his first City goal since November 2017 and Fernandinho sealed a 2-0 win at Old Trafford on Wednesday as the three-time defending champions booked a spot in the final against Tottenham.

The City defender, who was relieved to see the flag raised after the ball bounced off him and into his own net during the semi-final, has been in good form this season, and his six possessions gained against United were the equal best for his side.

City manager Guardiola was full of praise for Stones, who had appeared on the outer at the club before beginning to impress.

"He came back and he made another outstanding performance – but the most important thing is he can do something he hasn't been able to do – play four, five, six games in a row. This is important," he told a news conference.

"He had to handle [Marcus] Rashford, who is dangerous and clever, and the quality of his passes to Joao [Cancelo] were outstanding. All the team, Fernandinho, our captain, what a performance again. He read the game incredibly well, he moved the team. Outstanding.

"All the players – [Ilkay] Gundogan, Raheem [Sterling], Phil [Foden] ... all the team."

Guardiola added: "All credit [to Stones]. Football is a long career – it is up and down, sometimes bad moments. He was out longer than we expected but he came back and he absolutely belongs here.

"We can help him but when someone plays like this, it's credit to him. Hopefully he can continue in this way."

Pep Guardiola dedicated Manchester City's 2-0 EFL Cup semi-final win over Manchester United to club great Colin Bell.

Former City and England midfielder Bell died on Tuesday after a short illness, aged 74.

City's players wore retro shirts bearing Bell's number eight before kick-off at Old Trafford, where a minute's silence was observed.

When the action got underway, an absorbing contest at odds with a dour 0-0 draw between the sides in the Premier League last month ensued, with City prevailing thanks to second-half goals from John Stones and Fernandinho.

"It's for him and, of course, for his family," Guardiola told Sky Sports in a post-match interview which he conducted wearing a t-shirt featuring Bell's likeness.

"This person helped to build something special for this club that doesn't have many, many trophies in the cabinet. But that is not important.

"What is important is the legacy that players provide from the past and some of these players in the future. That is the club we have now.

"It is an incredible victory for us to beat United away and be in another final.

"But especially today, it is for him. Absolutely."

City might be considered to have "many, many" EFL Cups if they are able to claim a fourth in a row against Tottenham in April's final.

Guardiola praised his players for a notable upturn in form of late after they followed up Sunday's swashbuckling 3-1 win over Chelsea in impressive fashion, despite Scott Carson and Cole Palmer taking the number of positive COVID-19 tests among his squad to eight since Christmas Day.

"You are frustrated when you play bad. When the team don't run, don't help, don't celebrate every defensive action," he said, rejecting the suggestion he was unhappy after a goalless first half.

"The team is ready. That is why we came here with an outstanding performance.

"We suffered a little bit in the second half because we were tired after the game at Stamford Bridge. They had two more days off to rest but when a team has the mentality to do it we achieve something incredible.

"I know the Carabao Cup is not the Champions League but four times in a row reaching the final is incredible. I am so impressed by the quality of this team."

As Manchester City's players huddled around the centre circle in number eight shirts to pay a poignant pre-match tribute to Colin Bell, it occurred a Pep Guardiola team might never have been so fittingly dressed.

England international Bell, widely revered as the finest player in City's history, passed away after a short illness on the eve Wednesday's 2-0 Manchester derby win the semi-final of the EFL Cup.

Bell, according to the loud and often repeated refrain of the Kippax Stand at City's old Maine Road home, was the greatest inside forward that the world had ever seen.

A technically gifted all-round midfielder, somehow simultaneously graceful and powerful, Bell thrived in those dangerous pockets between winger and centre-forward to cause maximum damage in Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison's celebrated City teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The inside forward had long gone out of fashion before Pep Guardiola ushered in his era of "free eights". From Xavi and Iniesta, through Thiago Alcantara and Toni Kroos to David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, City's former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss delights in filling his side with such players.

During Sunday's swaggering 3-1 win over Chelsea, De Bruyne was joined in the line-up by Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva. That quartet of playmakers probably would have resumed duties together at Old Trafford had Silva not been suspended.

After paying tribute to City's eternal eight, Guardiola's team of number eights got to work. Where the league fixture on this ground a month ago was as stodgy as the pitches Bell graced in his heyday, the pop and fizz to the early passing was much more in "Nijinsky's" image.

John Stones ended his long goal drought as holders Manchester City secured a 2-0 derby win over Manchester United to set up an EFL Cup final showdown with Tottenham.

Stones has been outstanding at the heart of the City defence since forcing his way back into the side this season and he scored his first City goal in 1,162 days at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

The in-form centre-back had earlier put the ball in his own net early on but Marcus Rashford was offside, summing up how his fortunes have changed.

United were unable to respond following Stones' goal early in the second half and Fernandinho doubled City's lead seven minutes from time with an excellent finish.

Pep Guardiola's side were worthy winners, dumping their neighbours out at the same stage they did 12 months ago as they aim to win the competition for a fourth consecutive season.

 

 

There is no let-up in the Premier League's hectic schedule this weekend as leaders Liverpool look to hold off the threat of Manchester United, who are lurking with intent in second place.

Jurgen Klopp's side face a tough test away at Southampton, who will be led by former Reds striker Danny Ings.

The Saints' main man is joined by Wilfried Zaha and Harvey Barnes in our Opta-powered Premier League fantasy picks for what promises to be another enthralling matchweek.


NICK POPE

Burnley have won three of their previous five Premier League games, with goalkeeper Pope central to their success.

Since the beginning of November, the England international has the competition's highest save percentage at 91 per cent.

No goalkeeper has kept more clean sheets than his five in that period, either. Good luck finding a way past him, Fulham.

JOHN STONES

Stones' Manchester City career looked to be over ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, but the England man has enjoyed a renaissance of late.

The 26-year-old has started six games for the club in the Premier League this season – four of which came in December – with City keeping clean sheets in five of those appearances and conceding just one goal in the other.

That compares to just two clean sheets and 11 goals conceded when he has not played. Up next for City and Stones? A visit to Chelsea.

BEN CHILWELL

Trying to get the better of Stones will be Chelsea left-back Chilwell, who has arguably been the most successful of Frank Lamaprd's signings ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

No defender has been involved in more goals (two scored, four assisted) than the former Leicester City left-back, with only Liverpool's Andy Robertson registering more assists (five).

Only two defenders have scored more goals: Southampton's Jannik Vestergaard and Chilwell's Chelsea team-mate Kurt Zouma.

GYLFI SIGURDSSON 

Like Stones, Sigurdsson has been brought in from the cold in recent weeks by Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti.

He is up against one of his favourite opponents next so expect the Iceland international to get some points on the board.

Sigurdsson has been involved in more Premier League goals against West Ham for Everton than any other opponent (two goals, two assists), scoring or assisting in each of his four appearances for the Toffees against the Hammers.

WILFRIED ZAHA

It has not been a stellar start to the season for Crystal Palace, who face rock-bottom Sheffield United on Saturday, but their talismanic forward has been in fine form.

Zaha has scored eight goals in 14 Premier League appearances this season, twice as many as in the 2019-20 campaign (four in 38 appearances).

Indeed, Zaha is looking to reach double figures in a top-flight campaign for only the second time in his career, also doing so in 2018-19 (10 goals in 34 games).

HARVEY BARNES

Leicester winger Barnes has been attracting admiring glances from some of the Premier League’s biggest clubs this season and it is not hard to see why.

The 23-year-old, who takes on Newcastle United next, has scored eight goals in 21 appearances in all competitions in 2020-21, one more than he did in 42 games last term.

Only in 2018-19 (10) has the midfielder netted more goals in all competitions across a single campaign.

DANNY INGS

Ings faces off against former club Liverpool on Monday looking to continue his superb form over the past two years.

Since Ralph Hasenhuttl took charge of Southampton in December 2018, Ings has been directly involved in 38 goals in the Premier League (31 scored, seven assisted).

That is 16 more than James Ward-Prowse, who has the next most at the club with 22 goal involvements in the same period.

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