Manchester City – Sunderland (Capital One Cup)
If in October, when Gus Poyet arrived at the Stadium of Light, anyone talked about Sunderland going to Wembley for the League Cup Final it would sound delirious. But here they are, March the 3rd, 2 p.m., they will go against millionaires Manchester City, and given their run they do have a chance to clinch silverware.
Manchester City‘s run to Wembley was a walk in the park, the only serious obstacle being Newcastle United they came across in round two. They went through Wigan Athletic, at home, 5-0. Then the Magpies followed, Negredo and Dzeko needed over-time to defeat them 2-0. The next in line was Championship Leicester City, job done with a 1-3 score-sheet. Semi-finals saw them against Sam Allardyce’s West Ham. The first leg, at the Etihad, pretty much decided the all thing (6-0). Alvaro Negredo made an hat-trick, Edin Dzeko had a brace and Touré want to contribute as well. The visit to Upton Park a mere formality (0-3), the Hammers had no arguments to counteract overpowering City. In 5 ties they scored 19 goals and conceded a single 1, you could say it’s the Citizens trade mark for the season.
About a month ago I remember thinking it was probably better for United to miss the Capital One Cup final. The way City was doing at the time they risked being utterly humiliated by their neighbor rivals. They had the roster every manager dreams of, were playing beautiful, dominant football, dominating throughout. And then they fell to Chelsea at home, first knock on the overwhelming aura. Suddenly, both the Citizens and their opposition realized they could be beaten. This momentum loss coincided with Fernadinho’s absence due to injury. The second notch, City had a soft spot, right in front of the center-back, when the Fernadinho-Touré’s partnership was broken. They have struggled to score in their most recent ties, a clean sheet against Norwich would be unbelievable four weeks earlier. The good news is the Brazilian is back in play, alongside Yaya Touré. Sergio Aguero is also back and the Citizens will be hoping he hits the ground running like he did last time after weeks on the sidelines. Securing this title could be just what they needed to kick-start a phenomenal end run for the season.
Kostel Pantilimon maintains his position in goal for the cup fixtures. Jovetic and Nastasic are the only injury concerns.
Probable line-up: Pantilimon – Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy – Nasri, Touré, Fernandinho, Silva – Aguero, Negredo.
Sunderland had a terrible start in Premier League, and was consequently dragged to the bottom of the table. Since Gus Poyet took over they are a different squad but the weight of past derails makes escape the in-danger zone hard. They sit in 18th place with 24 points, in a table where a mere 10 separate 10th from 20th seed, elevens fixtures to go. Battle for survival in the top division will be a gruesome one to follow.
For the Black Cats the road to the Capital One Cup was not an easy pick, except maybe for the inaugural two rounds. Their first encounter was with League One MK Dons. The Milton Keynes’ managed to net twice but were sent off nonetheless with a 4-2 result. Another League One side came their way, this time it was Peterborough United, sent off with a 2-0 loss. Then things begun to get serious. Southampton was next and for the first time in the League Cup fixtures the Black Cats were the underdogs. And it was then they have discovered they had a talent to perform in those circumstances. One single decisive tie, to go all in, in a way an escape from those demoralizing division results. Off with the Saints (2-1), the draw dictated Chelsea for the Quarter-finals. And it proved to be the challenge. A tough match, right before the break Frank Lampard set the advantage for the Blues, one that lasted until Fabio Borini’s dramatic equalizer at minute 88. It was one of those moments when Chelsea failed to seal the deal and Sunderland kept believing to the very last minute. Being forced to overtime shook the Blues and galvanized Gus Poyet and his men. Ki scored in the 118′, kicking Mourinho’s side out of the Capital One Cup. And then Wembley was two fixtures away, Manchester United the opposition to beat. The first leg, at the Stadium of Light, ended up a 2-1 success for the Black Cats, with the unwilling contribution of Ryan Giggs. The final was one trip to Old Trafford away and 90 minutes were not enough. Nor 120′ neither. United only went down on penalties (agg. 3-3/ pen. 1-2).
Keiren Westwood’s fitness is still doubtful.
Probable line-up: Mannone – Bardsley, Brown, O’Shea, Alonso – Ki, Bridcutt, Colback – Johnson, Altidore, Borini.
Gus Poyet is in the clear here. For Sunderland the prowess was getting to Wembley. Sure, now that they did they will give it a go, one that make the supporters proud and they can take a boost from the appearance. Anything else will come as a bonus.
For Manchester City this fixture will be a huge thing. They are under pressure, need to win something. Pellegrini most of all. Everyone says they are contenders in four fronts, clearly this season every competition they are on is theirs to lose. And so far they haven’t won anything.