MANCHESTER, England -- On a night when Manchester City celebrated a derby defeat and Manchester United were left disappointed with a win at the Etihad Stadium, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continued his knack of winning a big game just in time and Pep Guardiola carried on his habit of reaching Carabao Cup finals.
United's 1-0 win courtesy of Nemanja Matic's goal saw Solskjaer become just the third manager after Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp to inflict two home defeats on Guardiola as City were condemned to their first defeat in the League Cup for 1,190 days. But it was Guardiola who left the pitch at the final whistle punching the air after guiding his team to a third successive final.
It was a win that didn't feel like a win and a defeat that didn't feel like a defeat.
Solskjaer missed the chance to reach a first final as United manager, but the victory capped a significant day for the Norwegian. It began with news that Bruno Fernandes will join his squad after a fee was agreed with Sporting Lisbon and ended with a second win at the Etihad in the space of six weeks.
The pressure on his position hiked up again after the miserable defeat to Burnley at Old Trafford a week ago, but not for the first time he came up with a good result at the right time. Back-to-back victories over Tottenham and City in December came after draws with Sheffield United and Aston Villa and a Europa League defeat to Astana. The draw with Liverpool in October -- still the only points Klopp's side have dropped in the Premier League this season -- came after a run of five games without a win, which included dire defeats to West Ham and Newcastle, and a draw in 90 minutes against League One Rochdale.
It is encouraging for Solskjaer to keep finding a way to step back from the brink, but he cannot keep putting himself in a position where it is needed. Victory here will mean very little if they cannot beat Wolves at home Saturday.
"We know it's going to be inconsistent this season, but it shows how good we can be," Solskjaer said. "We want to eradicate defeats but everyone watching knows what we're trying to do. We're going to get there, these players will learn."
Guardiola said afterwards he "liked a lot the way they played." United remain very much a work in progress, even once Fernandes is signed.
Despite reaching another final, Guardiola was left to field questions about how his team had failed to score.
By the time United mustered their first shot in the 35th minute, City had already had nine. The key difference, though, was that Matic's went in. Riyad Mahrez once and Sergio Aguero twice forced David de Gea into three good saves inside the first 20 minutes. Raheem Sterling looked to have a clear sight of goal before Harry Maguire snuffed out the danger.
The opening goal had been coming, but almost everyone inside the Etihad Stadium was stunned that it was United who got it.
On a rare raid into City's half, Jesse Lingard was chopped down by Rodri. Bernardo Silva couldn't clear Fred's free kick, but Matic still had plenty to do when the ball skidded out to the corner of the area. Instead of taking a touch, the Serbian swivelled and smashed in a left-footed shot that brushed off the inside of the near post.
Whether it was because it came so against the run of play or because it was Matic's first goal since Boxing Day 2018, it was so surprising that it took a split second for everyone to realise what had happened. Matic was already halfway through his celebration when the United fans at the other end of the stadium erupted, sensing for the first time that a repeat of the famous Paris comeback might be on.
Matic was having an excellent game in the centre of midfield -- vindicating Solskjaer's suggestion in the buildup that he could earn a new contract -- but it ended prematurely. Booked in the second half for slicing down Mahrez, he picked up another yellow card 14 minutes before the end for stepping across Ilkay Gundogan as City raced forward. Solskjaer called the decision "a joke" but stopped short of saying referee Kevin Friend had cost United a place at Wembley.
"I don't want to talk about the referee too much," Solskjaer said. "I want to talk about the players and the attitude they're showing. They've come here twice in six weeks and beaten City twice. You could not do that in 10 years and they've done it in six weeks."
Guardiola also took the chance to praise his players -- rounding on critics who have claimed they have been unable to keep pace with Liverpool in the league because they have lost their hunger after so much success.
"Reaching the final shows when people say we are complacent about what we have won, you are not able to do it three years in a row," he said. "It is a good signal for us. It doesn't matter what competition, we try and do it."
A night of mixed emotions ended with everyone finding something to smile about.