This Sunday, the 2014 Football League Cup Final will take place between big-spending Manchester City and surprise package Sunderland, who have put their disappointing form in the Premier League aside to beat a number of big names en route to Wembley. In the run-up to the final, few are giving Gus Poyet’s men a chance of winning their first major title for over four decades.
On their way to Wembley, Manuel Pellegrini’s side have been largely untroubled, save for a nervy extra-time victory away at Newcastle United, where two late goals from Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo were enough to get them over the line. Otherwise, routine victories over Wigan Athletic, Leicester City and West Ham, where they won 9-0 on aggregate in the semis, were sufficient.
As a result of their comparatively easy run to the final, City will be contesting their first League Cup final since 1976. This provides Pellegrini with a chance to win his first piece of silverware with the club and the first major honour of his managerial career since he was in charge of Argentine giants River Plate.
Black Cats magic
Sunderland’s run to the final was far trickier in that they had classier opposition and were struggling for any sort of form in the league. The dismissal of controversial boss Paolo Di Canio and appointment of Poyet has worked for the Black Cats, using the competition as a springboard for improvement. The highlight of their run was beating Manchester United in the semis on penalties.
Under Poyet, Sunderland also managed to see off Chelsea in the quarter-finals 2-1 after extra time, also recording wins over the likes of Southampton and League One pair Milton Keynes Dons and Peterborough United earlier on. Winning so many games in a row has given the team belief and, as a result, they now have a fighting chance of staying up.
With just a few days to go, City could receive a boost by seeing star striker Sergio Aguero return from injury. Meanwhile, their other stars such as Dzeko, Yaya Toure, Negredo and David Silva could cause numerous problems for the Sunderland defence. The only concern that City could have is in defence, where they are worryingly short of fit centre-backs.
As for their opponents, Sunderland are likely to rely on resurgent winger Adam Johnson, who has forced his way into England contention. Johnson is their main threat going forward; although they have proved to be tighter at the back, save for a recent drubbing away at Arsenal. In their last six games, they have kept four clean sheets.
Manchester City are overwhelming favourites to win the League Cup and should win the game 2-0. A relative lack of firepower up front for Sunderland will probably be their undoing, with Aguero, Toure and the rest proving too much for them to handle. Their attention will probably be on their fight to avoid relegation instead, although City has the league title to play for.