League Cup Preview: Man City v Sunderland

Gus Poyet needs to mastermind arguably the biggest shock this season for Sunderland to beat Manchester City in Sunday's League Cup final.

While Poyet has already guided Sunderland to a 1-0 win over City, in a Premier League clash at the Stadium of Light back in November, this weekend's Wembley showpiece represents an altogether different challenge for his players.

City have displayed excellent form since that reverse, securing victory in 20 out of 25 games in all competitions.

Factor in that Manuel Pellegrini's men have plundered 19 goals in their five League Cup ties in 2013-14, and that the two sides are battling at opposite ends of the Premier League, and it's easy to why City are heavily tipped to win the competition for the first time since 1976.

Pellegrini, though, is right to be wary of Sunderland, who have also raised plenty of eyebrows with their cup exploits.

The Chilean observed: "Sunderland also have a lot of motivation to win, exactly the same as we do. 

"Maybe we are the favourites, but we cannot forget that Sunderland eliminated Chelsea and Manchester United, big teams. They are defiant. I am sure it will be a very close game."

City fans and players alike will not need reminding of what happened when they last made the trip to Wembley in May as overwhelming favourites to leave with silverware. Ben Watson's stoppage-time header settled the FA Cup final and put Wigan Athletic supporters in dreamland.

Pellegrini is boosted by the availability of 26-goal striker Sergio Aguero, who has been missing since the end of January with a hamstring injury. The possible return of Aguero is offset by the loss of Stevan Jovetic (hamstring) and Matija Nastasic (knee).

As Sunderland prepare to return to the capital a week after last Saturday's 4-1 defeat at Arsenal in the Premier League, Poyet has hailed City as "one of the best teams in the world".

Knockout competitions - Sunderland are also into the last eight of the FA Cup - have provided Poyet's side with a welcome platform to build on as the club battle to preserve their top-flight status.

Extra-time was needed to see off Chelsea in the League Cup quarter-finals before Sunderland stunned Manchester United on penalties at Old Trafford in the semis.

The Wearside club now have the opportunity to end a 41-year wait for silverware, stretching back to their famous FA Cup triumph as a second-tier side in 1973, when Leeds United were stunned in the final.

Sunderland skipper John O'Shea has urged his team-mates to savour the occasion against City.

He said: "It's a chance to win a major trophy for Sunderland, and to create a bit of history as well, so it's a massive game and one you can only really enjoy if you come out on top."

Winger Adam Johnson will be particularly keen to make an impact for Sunderland as he faces his old club. The 26-year-old heads into the game having scored seven goals in his last nine outings.

January signing Liam Bridcutt, who has started Sunderland's last three Premier League games, is cup-tied and joins goalkeeper Keiren Westwood (shoulder) in missing the game.


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