With New Year optimism already beginning to wane as the first week of 2021 nears its end, at least football fans have a mouth-watering major cup final to give them all something to look forward to in April.
After Manchester City beat Manchester United 2-0 in Wednesday's derby semifinal (stream the replay on ESPN+ in the U.S.), the Carabao Cup final will pit Pep Guardiola against his old nemesis Jose Mourinho, after the latter's Tottenham Hotspur side made it through by seeing off Brentford with a 2-0 win on Tuesday (stream the replay on ESPN+ in the U.S.).
The pair have enjoyed a rare dominance over the competition for the best part of the last decade, with either City or Mourinho winning the competition every year since 2014. The last manager to win the League Cup before the City-Mourinho duopoly took hold was Michael Laudrup of Swansea City, who beat Bradford City 5-0 in the 2013 final.
2014: Man City (with Manuel Pellegrini in charge)
2015: Mourinho (with Chelsea)
2016: Man City (Pellegrini)
2017: Mourinho (Man United)
2018: Man City (Guardiola)
2019: Man City (Guardiola)
2020: Man City (Guardiola)
2021: Man City vs. Mourinho
One of two things will happen on 25 April...— Carabao Cup (@Carabao_Cup) January 6, 2021
❇️ Pep Guardiola will become the joint-most successful manager in League Cup history...
❇️ Jose Mourinho will become the outright most successful manager in League Cup history...#EFL | #CarabaoCup pic.twitter.com/UuSNlPhtt4
The 2021 final -- which kicks off on Sunday, April 25 at 4 p.m. local time/11 a.m. ET (stream LIVE on ESPN+ in the U.S.) -- will see Guardiola and Mourinho vying for a special place in the record books, with a win for the former meaning he will become the joint-most successful coach in competition's history with four wins -- equalling Mourinho's career tally. Therefore, should Mourinho emerge victorious at Wembley the Portuguese will extend his record as the outright most successful manager in League Cup history, with five wins.
Mourinho is yet to win a trophy with Spurs and Guardiola still hasn't delivered Champions League glory to City's ambitious owners, but one of them will at least lay claim to securing the first major silverware on offer to English clubs every calendar year -- again.
To date, there have been 24 managerial meetings in all competitions between Mourinho and Guardiola in England and Spain, with Guardiola generally enjoying the rub of the green (10 wins to Mourinho's seven) over the years. With an intervening Premier League encounter between City and Spurs scheduled for Feb. 13, their April date at Wembley will be the 26th clash of the Iberian titans, with both managers being each other's most common career opponent. Will Pep mastermind win No. 11 over his venerable foe, or will Jose take the trophy and claw back ground in the head-to-head stakes?
Jose Mourinho has never lost a League Cup final.— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) January 6, 2021
Pep Guardiola has won the last three in a row.
Something has got to give 🏆 pic.twitter.com/l5QcSIHGxY
The weight of history -- or at least very recent history -- is in Manchester City's favour, with Guardiola's side having lifted the trophy in each of the last three seasons (2017-18, 2018-19, and 2019-20) and in five of the last seven seasons since 2013-14.
Guardiola's City are only the second team ever to win three consecutive League Cups, with Liverpool going one better to win four titles in a row between 1981-84. Liverpool are also the only team to have won more League Cup titles (8) than City (7), though of course there stands another long-standing record that could be matched by Pep's side come April.
City's streak in the League Cup began on Sept. 22, 2015 with an emphatic 4-1 drubbing of Sunderland in the third round. Guardiola's side have actually lost four matches and drawn once but they've all been first or second legs of semifinal ties that were subsequently won on aggregate. As things stand, City have tasted victory in 16 games since their winning run started, outscoring opponents 50-13 in 21 matches overall.
On the other side of the equation, Jose Mourinho has never lost a League Cup final having got there four times in the past, thrice with Chelsea (2004-05, 2006-07, and 2014-15) and once with Manchester United (2016-17). There's also the fact that Mourinho has always won at least one trophy in his second season with each of the five clubs he has managed during his career.
Regardless of which way it goes at Wembley on April 25, new ground will be broken in one of football's greatest managerial rivalries.