For Manchester United, the wait for a first final and trophy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer goes on.
For serial winners Manchester City, it’s business as usual, after Pep Guardiola’s side stayed on course for a fourth straight Carabao Cup win.
Defeat here made it four straight semi-final exits for United under Solskjaer, the nearly men unable to take the next step towards a first trophy since the 2017 Europa League triumph under Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho will be in the final with Tottenham, who face City at Wembley on April 25, but his former club United came up short yet again, which has become a recurring theme under Solskjaer.
United were abject here, lacking any conviction or creativity in the final third, unable to rely on talisman Bruno Fernandes, who had a rare off night, to come to their rescue again.
Solskjaer’s big players – Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba and Fernandes – all failed to deliver when it mattered, while skipper Harry Maguire was culpable for City’s first goal.
In John Stones, City had the game’s stand-out player, one whose City career looked to be over, but who has reinvented himself this season and is surely now on the cusp of an England recall.
Stones defended with composure and intelligence, and even managed to get on the scoresheet at the other end, setting City on their way to victory with his 50minute goal, his first since 2017.
A year ago, City thumped United 3-1 at Old Trafford, winning the tie 3-2 on aggregate, en route to lifting the trophy for the third straight year.
This time, in a one-off game, they were still too good for United, who must put this disappointment behind them and focus on the FA Cup and their impressive return to form in the Premier League.
Both sides wore black armbands and observed a minute’s silence in memory of City legend Colin Bell, who passed away on Monday, aged 74.
The two sides played out a moribund 0-0 draw here last month, but the first five minutes of this latest derby instalment provided more entertainment than the entire 90 of the dire league meeting.
Both sides had the ball in the net inside five minutes, United through Marcus Rashford, City through Ilkay Gundogan, both efforts correctly ruled out for offside.
City had the ball in United’s net again in the 24 minute, Phil Foden applying a cool finish, but again the goal was ruled out for offside.
The visitors ended the first-half as they started it, in the ascendancy, dominating possession and looking the most likely to break the deadlock.
The goal their sustained pressure deserved came five minutes after the restart, after Scott McTominay had conceded a free-kick with a foul on Sterling.
Foden slung in the ball, Maguire inexplicably failed to clear it, allowing it to fall invitingly for Stones, who turned it over the line via his thigh, more by instinct than finesse.
With United committing men forward in their desire to draw level, they were vulnerable to the counter-attack and almost conceded again in the 57 minute.
City burst forward, Foden crossing for Sterling, whose looping goalbound header was turned away by Dean Henderson, who kept the scoreline respectable for United with several big saves.
Henderson came to United’s rescue again four minutes later, with another Hollywood-esque save to keep out a 25-yard effort from Riyad Mahrez.
United toiled, but were unable to plunder the goal they needed, City sealing the win with an 83rd-minute piledriver from Fernandinho, to set up another Wembley date.