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 at the London Stadium and Pep Guardiola’s side could have no complaints after being ground down by West Ham, who defended with astonishing organisation before holding their nerve in a tense penalty shootout.
West Ham were genuinely outstanding as they reached the last-eight. David Moyes’s side battled to contain the holders, who were in trouble when Phil Foden screwed his penalty wide, and they would not be denied. Mark Noble, Jarrod Bowen, Craig Dawson and Aaron Cresswell scored confidently from 12 yards and the roar was deafening when Saïd Benrahma coolly sealed a 5-3 win.
It hardly felt fair on West Ham that their reward for winning at Manchester United in the previous round was to be pitted against the holders. City never treat this competition as an inconvenience and although they made nine changes to the 11 that beat Brighton last weekend, it was impossible to call it a weakened team when Guardiola’s attack featured Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez on the wings, Kevin de Bruyne roaming around and Ilkay Gündogan threatening from deep with his late runs into the box.
City took control from the start, the passing inventive and intricate, the movement sharp, and for a while it seemed a matter of time before they scored. Gündogan crept into space, only to be denied by a fine interception from Issa Diop as West Ham retreated into a low defensive block, steeling themselves for an evening spent chasing the ball.
There is a resilience to this West Ham side, who were supremely well drilled by Moyes despite making eight changes from their win over Tottenham. There was no question of them rolling over. They were compact and organised in midfield and there was much to admire about their stubborn defending during a tight first half, particularly when Ben Johnson stopped a dangerous run down the left from Sterling, who would later find himself crowded out by claret and blue shirts when he dribbled in from the left and tried to make space for a shot.
West Ham even had the game’s first notable attempt, Noble stinging Zack Steffen’s palms from 20 yards midway through the opening period, although that show of impertinence drew a sharp response from City. At the other end Cole Palmer, a 19-year-old winger of rare promise, drew a good save from Alphonse Areola with a low shot.
Starting through the middle, Palmer was constantly involved, linking play, testing defenders with his sharp footwork, showing confidence to shoot from long range. City remained the better side and they finished the half with a decent chance, Nathan Aké glancing a header wide from a free-kick.
West Ham’s dilemma was a lack of presence in attack, where Andriy Yarmolenko did not look cut out for the task of leading the line in the absence of Michail Antonio. Yarmolenko found it difficult against Aké and John Stones, who was able to step up into midfield on numerous occasions, and the hosts also needed more incision on the right flank from Nikola Vlasic, who did not have many opportunities to run at Oleksandr Zinchenko.
There was more zest to West Ham at the start of the second half, Arthur Masuaku’s raids down the left giving them hope. Masuaku kept driving into the box and the opening goal looked inevitable when Steffen pushed out a rising effort from the winger. The ball dropped to Yarmolenko, who was denied by a last-ditch block from Zinchenko.
West Ham’s menace was growing, Vlasic teeing up Tomas Soucek for a shot that swerved wide, but City were also causing problems. Palmer, his imagination on fire, played in Gündogan, who shot wide. De Bruyne went close with a deflected effort. Then Stones reacted with disbelief when he saw Areola somehow turn his powerful header to safety.
It was a gripping cup tie now and Moyes, sensing a chance to cause an upset, responded by turning to his bench and bringing on Bowen, Benrahma and Pablo Fornals for Yarmolenko, Vlasic and Masuaku just after the hour.
Would Guardiola act? City, who replaced Kyle Walker with João Cancelo at the break, still had Foden, Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus in reserve and they were beginning to run out of ideas. West Ham’s centre-backs, Diop and Craig Dawson, were battling to contain Palmer and it had become a difficult night for Sterling, who was struggling to beat the increasingly impressive Johnson.
Eventually Foden, Jesus and Grealish came on, replacing Palmer, Mahrez and De Bruyne. Foden was soon involved, his deflected shot squirming through to Gündogan, who could not beat Areola. Zinchenko also tested West Ham’s goalkeeper from long range. At the other end Soucek fired over. It had to be penalties.