Every week, I write ‘Three Key Battles’ preview features for Touchline Talk, in which I pit three players from each side against each other. I don’t normally post them on here as well, but I thought I would this week as I was tasked to do three key battles for today’s Capital One Cup final. Enjoy!
For the chance to win the first trophy of the season, Manchester City and Sunderland go head to head in the Capital One Cup final at Wembley on Sunday.
Both sides have had contrasting seasons and found the road to Wembley equally diverse, with City easing through to the final after winning 9-0 over two legs against West Ham United in the semi-finals.
But Sunderland needed a penalty shoot-out to advance from their last four tie as they shocked and knocked out Manchester United.
Despite seeing his side beat the Red Devils, Gus Poyet is still likely to make changes after a 4-1 loss to Arsenal last weekend.
Defender Wes Brown returns from suspension, while Emanuele Giaccherini could be recalled after making a positive impact at the Emirates Stadium.
Manuel Pellegrini welcomes back striker Sergio Aguero after his recovery from a hamstring problem, but Matija Nastasic and Stevan Jovetic will miss the match through injury.
They clearly start this game as hot favourites as they look to lift their first League Cup since 1976.
Sunderland have never lifted the trophy before but were finalists in 1985 and their season could not have been more different. Their last major honour came in 1973, where they memorably beat Leeds United in the FA Cup final, 1-0.
They are the side for the big occasion, have some confident players and one thing they have in their favour this season, they have beaten Manchester City already this season when they met at the Stadium of Light in November – 1-0 thanks to a Phil Bardsley goal.
But read below to find out which three key battles could decide who gets the glory in North London.
Olly Allen’s Prediction: Manchester 4-2 Sunderland
To watch the drama, tune into Sky Sports 1 at 12:30pm with the game itself kicking-off at 2pm.
1. Pablo Zabaleta vs Adam Johnson
No has seemed to challenge Pablo Zabaleta for the right-back spot at Manchester City this season, and if they did, it would be very hard for them to make Manuel Pellegrini’s team ahead of the Argentine.
At times this season, he has needed a rest, such is his work rate and common presence in the City team, but he is certain to play in this fixture with Pellegrini set to name as strong a squad as possible to avoid any slip-ups.
His last visit to Wembley ended in an early bath as he was shown the red card against Wigan Athletic in last season’s FA Cup final, so he won’t want a similar ending on Sunday.
The player hoping to make him commit a red card foul is Adam Johnson, Sunderland’s in-form player of late and someone with a point to prove against City.
The 26 year old spent an inconsistent three seasons at the Etihad, scoring 15 goals in 97 appearances and winning the the Premier League and FA Cup before making a £10 million switch to the Black Cats in the summer of 2012.
He has showed since the turn of the year why he was once a City player and will be crucial if his current side beat his former club to win the trophy.
2. Yaya Toure vs Emanuele Giaccherini
Another ever-present figure and essential player in the City squad this season, Yaya Toure was the key to when the Citizens last won a cup, scoring the winning goal against Stoke City in the FA Cup final in 2011.
However last season in the final of the same competition against Wembley, The Ivorian was a shadow of himself, failing to have any impact and his display reflected a dismal, curiously downbeat City showing.
Whether we sat player turn up on Sunday or the one that can be the most awesome, unplayable midfield player around will decide whether City find success.
The only positive to come from Sunderland’s 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Arsenal last weekend was the introduction of Emanuele Giaccherini, who scored the Black Cats’ consolation late on and showed glimpses of a very talented player.
It seems to have earned the Italian a place in the starting line-up on Sunday, with Gus Poyet confirming his inclusion will be part of his re-modelled strike force.
The 28-year old has scored four goals in total this season, which may not sound like he is prolific but in a team that finds goals hard to come by this is still the second best league tally in Poyet’s squad. Can he repay the Uruguayan’s faith in him at Wembley?
3. Alvaro Negredo vs John O’Shea
Despite, Sergio Aguero returning from injury and likely to start, Alvaro Negredo should keep his place, with Edin Dzeko possibly set to be dropped for the Argentine.
Negredo and the Bosnia and Herzegovina international are joint top scorers in the League Cup this season, with six goals apiece, with five of the Spaniard’s coming against West Ham across two legs in the semis, so a similar impact will please Pellegrini.
The Chilean boss claimed that the striker had an “off day” against Stoke last weekend but has backed him to return to form in crucial style at Wembley.
If this is the case, John O’Shea is in for a tough day at the office as he looks to make his experience count towards a historic Sunderland victory.
The Irishman and probable centre-back partner Wes Brown have six League Cup winners medals between them, all won with City’s rivals Manchester United.