Hatching a Plan for Sunderland to Shock Manchester City in Capital One Cup Final
Sunderland travel to Wembley on Sunday for their first cup final appearance since 1992.
Standing in their way this time around, a Manchester City side looking to secure a first trophy under Manuel Pellegrini.
For many, the result is already a formality. The Black Cats are clear outsiders, with their wealthy adversaries expected to stroll to a comfortable victory.
Here's a look at how Gus Poyet's side can upset the odds and end a 41-year wait for major silverware.
As mentioned, Sunderland are rank outsiders; however, one only has to go back as far as May 2013 to witness a major underdog prevail over Manchester City.
That time it was Roberto Martinez's Wigan, who more than matched the heavy favourites, landing a shock FA Cup win.
The Latics defended well but showed genuine confidence and belief in their approach. Several individuals excelled, and City seemed lethargic for long periods, perhaps surprised by their opponent's conviction.
This game is key material for Poyet and his squad to study. Confidence will play a crucial role for the Black Cats, and seeing a similar scenario so recently can only inspire them.
Emphasise Recent Success
Perhaps surprisingly, Sunderland actually hold the advantage in recent encounters with Manchester City.
The Black Cats have won four of the past seven meetings, losing just twice, and secured 1-0 wins in the two most recent contests.
This has to be in Poyet's team talk. If Sunderland go into the game without genuine belief they can succeed, they will lose. What better way to inspire a side than remind them of their recent success and clarify exactly how this was achieved.
The most recent 1-0 win saw both Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko struggle against Wes Brown and John O'Shea.
While City peppered the Sunderland goal statistically, over half of the shots came from outside the box as Pellegrini's side resorted to ambitious efforts.
As with Wigan's triumph, these recent games are more essential footage for Poyet to absorb and analyse.
Compress the Space in the Final Third
Clearly, for Sunderland to have any joy, they are going to have to defend well.
The back four must be well-organised and keep close tabs on City's illustrious strikers. Pellegrini will almost certainly deploy Samir Nasri and David Silva is his wider berths, both of whom will look to drift inside and create overloads.
The likes of Liam Bridcutt and Jack Colback must be aware of their movement and restrict the space in front of their defence.
The more compact and narrow the Black Cats play, the more City will be forced wide, where they will struggle to be as effective.
Much of Sunderland's recent success over City has seen them block off the penalty area, leaving their opponents crossing and shooting from range.
Master the Counter
Sunderland averaged just 37 percent possession in their most recent meeting with City.
However, by enduring such prolonged spells of attack, the Black Cats will draw the majority of their opponents forward—especially if they are yet to find a breakthrough.
For that reason, any turnover must be capitalised on. Any time Sunderland recover the ball they must have certain movement and runs meticulously prepared for, in an effort to exploit City's potentially excessive adventure.
Chelsea's recent win at the Etihad Stadium is a prime example of this approach, albeit with superior players in operation.
The skill and direct running of Adam Johnson will be key for Sunderland, as will the hold-up play of Poyet's striker. By stretching the field and overloading for as many counter-attacks as possible, they will have a better chance of testing Joe Hart more often.
Despite limited possession during recent meetings, Sunderland have still found a route to goal against City. They managed five shots in this season's 1-0 win and 12 during last year's encounter.
Both these tallies are considerably fewer than their opponents, but they are still an opportunity for success.
For Sunderland to hoist the Capital One Cup trophy, they must produce one of their most clinical displays of the season.
Seeing their opponents score from one of their first few chances will unsettle City and perhaps provoke memories of Wigan—especially if they are having difficulty beating Vito Mannone.
Winning at Wembley will be a tall order for Sunderland. Finding the best blend of confidence, defensive resilience and a clinical, fluent offence will provide them their best chance.
Statistics via WhoScored.com.