Sunderland denied fans an all-Manchester final in the Capital One Cup by advancing on penalties over Manchester United in the second leg of their semifinal affair.
Sunderland took a 2-1 aggregate lead into Old Trafford on Wednesday, Jan. 22 and saw Manchester United pull even by finishing the match with a 2-1 win. That didn't come until Javier Hernandez netted a goal after the match crossed the 120th minute.
Sunderland netted two to Manchester United's one in the penalty shootout. It was a rather sloppy shootout, but one that Sunderland manager Gus Poyet wanted to credit to goalkeeper Vito Mannone:
At any rate, the March 2 final for the Captial One Cup is set. Check out the vitals, and then we can move a little deeper into the preview.
Who: Manchester City vs. Sunderland
When: Sunday, March 2
Where: Wembley Stadium at 2 p.m. GMT
Manchester City had already secured their place in the final prior to Wednesday's action. The Citizens didn't have quite as difficult a time in their semifinal. In fact, their only difficulty in the semifinal likely came from trying to stay focused, as they took a 6-0 advantage into the second leg against West Ham United.
The Citizens still managed to take care of business and cruised to a 3-0 win and a 9-0 advantage in aggregate.
That sets up for a showdown that isn't exactly going to catapult the Capital One Cup into the upper echelon of desired hardware. After all, the Citizens have proven to be one of the world's best teams.
They are currently second in the Premier League, and their dizzying attack will send even squads with the best defense into bouts of fear.
Meanwhile, Sunderland is not one of the world's best teams.
They are 19th in the Premier League table with 18 points, which ties them for the fewest points in the league.
That said, Sunderland has been playing better as of late.
They are 2-2-1 in their last five league contests. They've been solid outside of the EPL as well. Sunderland is coming off of a 3-1 win over Carlisle United in Round 3 of the FA Cup on Jan. 5, and obviously they also have their success in the Capital One Cup.
Although beating Manchester United as the storied club is under the guidance of David Moyes and is not proving to be all that difficult a task, it is still an accomplishment for a club as lightly heralded as Sunderland to be proud of. Maybe Moyes is just an altruistic sort and not a bad manager?
At any rate, Sunderland could also be proud of winning the Captial One Cup. Manchester City isn't likely, although I wouldn't expect it to admit it feels the same way.
Let's be honest: For Manchester City, the Capital One Cup has to be more of a nuisance than anything. It just clutters the schedule while the talented team chases far more prestigious pieces of hardware.
For the Citizens, this has caused a conflict big enough to already have a fixture changing dates:
Sunderland has a match against West Bromwich Albion that is currently scheduled for Dec. 1, but I would expect that to change as well.
On the other side, both teams have league matches scheduled on March 8. Manchester City has a home match with Aston Villa lined up, and Sunderland has an away match with Liverpool.
What's more interesting for Manchester City is that on March 12, they have the second leg of their Champions League tie with Barcelona. Then, although it is further in the future, Manchester City will also have a March 29 league match against current table-leaders Arsenal creeping into their thoughts.
In other words, the Capital One Cup is going to be the least of the Citizens' concerns when the match rolls around.
Meanwhile, Sunderland needs to avoid relegation. This should keep their focus on the Premier League, but the opportunity to play for any hardware will be far more exciting to those playing for Sunderland than Manchester City.
Perhaps, all of this will give us a competitive final.
Let us not also forget that Sunderland's 1-0 win over Manchester City in EPL play on Nov. 10 at Stadium of Light was part of Manchester City's road struggles that appear to be the only thing keeping this team from running away with the league.
Despite all of those factors, however, I wouldn't expect Sunderland to be able to topple Manchester City. The Citizens can score goals in bunches no matter who is on the pitch.
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