After five years of utter dominance, Manchester City’s hold on the Carabao Cup is over. Their reign ended after a night of absorbing entertainment and Pep Guardiola’s side could have no complaints after being ground down by West Ham, who defended with incredible heart and organisation before holding their nerve in a penalty shootout.
West Ham were genuinely outstanding as they reached the last eight, once again demonstrating how far they have come under David Moyes. It did not matter that they were forced to live without the ball for long spells, the lactic acid rising as they strained to keep City’s glittering attack at bay; that simply gave Moyes’s players a chance to dig deep and they relished seeing a daunting task out successfully, even if they needed Alphonse Areola to rescue them with some excellent saves in the second half.
This is a very different West Ham team from previous iterations. It spoke volumes that they were able to compete with City despite making eight changes from their win over Tottenham last Sunday, offering further proof of the tactical rigour introduced by Moyes. “I’ve got to give credit to the manager,” West Ham’s first team coach, Stuart Pearce said. “He drives this club on.”
Pearce went on to praise West Ham’s resilience, their honesty, while he was right to talk up their courage with the ball. For all City’s dominance, there was more to this mature performance from West Ham than sticking 10 men behind the ball and playing for penalties. That has never been their way under Moyes, whose spirited team had chances to win it before Saïd Benrahma eventually sealed a 5-3 triumph in the shootout.
All the same it was difficult not to focus on a wholehearted defensive effort from West Ham, who have kept four consecutive clean sheets. There were impeccable displays in central defence from Issa Diop and Craig Dawson, who fought to contain the gifted Cole Palmer. Raheem Sterling got nothing out of Ben Johnson, West Ham’s 21-year-old right-back. Mark Noble, filling in for Declan Rice, was tireless alongside Tomas Soucek in central midfield.
This was by no means a bad performance from City, who had won this competition in each of the last four seasons. “We created enough chances against a team who defended so well,” Guardiola said, thinking of the moments when Ilkay Gündogan, John Stones, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Palmer were frustrated by Areola’s reflexes. Gündogan would also shoot wide when through on goal and City were still pressing in the dying stages, Sterling heading straight at Areola deep into added time.
Softer opponents would have crumbled well before half-time. Not West Ham. There is a reason that they sit fourth in the league and top of their Europa League group. They were compact in midfield and they always carried a threat on the break, Noble shooting from distance early on.
At the other end Palmer, a promising 19-year-old winger, was dangerous for City, who had made nine changes. He unloaded a shot that Areola saved with his feet and the visitors also went close just before half-time, Nathan Aké heading just wide.
If only Palmer’s fellow forwards had played with more zest. Riyad Mahrez was quiet before being substituted, Sterling’s influence was minimal and Kevin De Bruyne’s passing radar was off. “Kevin came back from a big injury,” Guardiola said. “He was so important against Chelsea and Liverpool, and Brugge as well. He will get his best form.”
The outcome was hard to predict by the time De Bruyne went off in the 83rd minute. West Ham grew as an attacking force in the second half, Arthur Masuaku’s raids down the left causing problems, and they could have nicked it. Zinchenko denied Andriy Yarmolenko with a last-ditch block. Teed up by Nikola Vlasic, Soucek blazed wide.
Sensing a chance to cause an upset, Moyes went for it by bringing on Jarrod Bowen, Benrahma and Pablo Fornals just after the hour. Soucek fired over again, but City’s response was emphatic: on came Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus.
A City goal looked likelier after those changes and West Ham had to retreat, Vladimir Coufal coming on to help Johnson deal with Foden. But there was no way through. It went to penalties and City were in trouble after Foden screwed his effort wide. Noble, Bowen, Dawson and Aaron Cresswell were nerveless for West Ham, who have never won this competition, and Benrahma’s accurate penalty meant that City finally knew what it was like to lose.