One down, three to go! Man City's quadruple dream is on as Sterling takes centre stage

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The winger gets abuse wherever he goes but he is clearly thriving on it, going by his outstanding contribution this season and his heroics at Wembley

It was nowhere near as easy as most people expected, but they got there in the end. Manchester City are Carabao Cup winners yet again, making this the first trophy they have successfully defended in their history, and they could well repeat the trick in the Premier League after Liverpool dropped points earlier on Sunday.

Liverpool, however, can wait. In this game, as tense and edgy a final as any you're likely to see, Chelsea more than played their part. Few gave them a hope in light of their 6-0 mauling at the Etihad Stadium just a fortnight ago, yet they were excellent here and, in truth, this was as even a game as they come. Had the Londoners won it, they would have deserved it too.

Pep Guardiola exhaled deeply on the pitch as his players celebrated around him, telling you how much of a battle that had been following City's 4-3 penalty shootout victory after a 0-0 draw. 

But it was City who won again - as they tend to do - and, while Maurizio Sarri should be, in some way, celebrating a day in which he proved that he can indeed mix things up, he can play another way, he will be in the headlines again because of the apparent lack of respect paid to him by his players. That Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted at the end of extra-time , and was allowed to stay on, hints at just how little power Sarri has over his own players, even if he did mastermind a performance that suggests he should be given time and funds to put things right.

When these two sides met here in the Community Shield at the start of the season there was a sheer gulf in class; City, in their third Guardiola season, knew exactly what they needed to do. Chelsea, just starting out under Sarri, did not. That was not the case on Sunday as City - as good as Chelsea were - played below their best.

Kevin De Bruyne is not yet at his best after two separate knee injuries and David Silva is struggling for form, too. That blunted their threat, as did some, at times, odd decision making from Sergio Aguero, who worked as hard as any of his team-mates but could not quite get things right in front of goal.

Victory, of course, makes those concerns secondary - especially as Aguero is usually so excellent. But injuries could be problematic, given Aymeric Laporte was substituted at half-time and Fernandinho followed towards the end of normal time. City will need both of those back ASAP as they push to win all four trophies.

Vincent Kompany Manchester City 2018-19

And yes, the quadruple is still on. Guardiola says he should not be asked about it again until the end of April or even May, and he is right, if only to protect his own sanity. There is a long, long way to go.

Yet City now have one cup in the bag and are firing on the three other fronts. They are handily placed to make the FA Cup semi-finals, given they face Championship side Swansea in the quarters, and they have one foot in the last eight of the Champions League.

And the result at Old Trafford earlier in the day went their way, as well. Not quite as perfectly as if Chris Smalling had scored right at the end, but City will be happy that Jurgen Klopp's men have now won just one of their past four league games.

Remember, those games have come since Guardiola's side lost at Newcastle, when many said the title race was over. Liverpool could have gone seven points clear the night after that. As it stands they are one point in front.

The title race is very much still on, and City can now switch their minds back to it after seeing off Chelsea on penalties. 

It is somewhat fitting that Raheem Sterling had the final say. The England winger has blossomed this season, blossomed into one of the finest players in the league. Eden Hazard was fantastic for Chelsea, reminding everybody of his qualities, but it does make you wonder what Sterling needs to do to get more recognition given Hazard was hailed in some quarters as the best player in Europe earlier this season. If that is the bar, Sterling is not far off it.

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Sterling, of course, was the subject of alleged racial abuse when Chelsea beat City at Stamford Bridge in December. Even if it was not overtly racist (and it is yet to be proven), it was more of the same; mindless boos, jeers and insults from opposition fans. And for what reason?

That is unlikely to change no matter what Sterling achieves in the coming months and years, and while it is tempting to say he will not care about that as long as he wins trophies, the abuse clearly hurts him, and he clearly believes it is racist. That cannot be healed by any number of trophies.

But he can at least have the last laugh, and on Sunday he did. 

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