Capital One Cup 2014 Final: Manchester City vs. Sunderland Key Battles

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Capital One Cup 2014 Final: Manchester City vs. Sunderland Key Battles
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Manuel Pellegrini and Gus Poyet have much to ponder in advance of the Capital One Cup Final.

Wembley is ready to welcome Manchester City and Sunderland for the Capital One Cup Final.

With the clock ticking and supporters of both clubs on their way to the capital, both managers will be busily preparing their troops for the battle that lies ahead.

For Gus Poyet, this is the most important date in this year's calendar so far. A win here is likely to galvanise his side and their fight for Premier League survival. The Black Cats go into the match with an important psychological advantage, having only lost once to the Citizens in the last five.

Manuel Pellegrini has markedly different aspirations for wanting to secure the first major silverware of the season.Where a Sunderland victory would be an added bonus to a frankly disappointing season, a City victory is expected.

A platform from which Pellegrini's more celebrated charges can lever greater and bigger success.

The underdog against the overwhelming favourite is always an enticing watch, and there will be a number of chess games being played out across the Wembley turf this afternoon.

 

Key Battles

Alvaro Negredo vs. Wes Brown

Jon Super/Associated Press
Alvaro Negredo will bully Wes Brown given half the chance.

Although the return of Sergio Aguero may be seen as pivotal by many, it shouldn't be overlooked that the Argentine had one of his worst games of the season at the Stadium of Light.

Poyet's back line have the measure of Aguero but will find it more difficult to contain the bullish Alvaro Negredo.

The Spaniard is primed to hit the goalscoring trail once more, despite not having scored since the second leg of this competition's semi-final against West Ham. It was in fact also the last time Negredo completed a full 90 minutes.

His movement and hold-up play against Barcelona in the Champions League gives us an indication of the type of game we can expect from the barrel-chested front man, and Sunderland's Wes Brown is likely to have his hands full containing Negredo for the entirety of proceedings.

Three red cards in his last 14 outings for the Black Cats, per WhoScored.com, is evidence that Brown has lost none of his combative spirit. Against his old team-mates from Manchester United in the semi-final, Brown was tactically astute and a chief reason why the Red Devils were kept at bay for long periods.

Only two defeats in the last 10 games provides evidence this a Sunderland team on the rise and playing themselves into form at just the right time.

 

Adam Johnson vs. Gael Clichy

Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Adam Johnson has a point to prove against his former team mate Gael Clichy.

Perhaps Sunderland's best hope of a goal falls to the effervescent Adam Johnson, a player with a point to prove to his old employers.

Johnson has shown time and again this season that he is the "go to" man. Seven goals and two assists in 10 games in 2014 are signs of a man in form, and a Barclays Player of the Month award for January is evidence of the same.

With Theo Walcott out of contention and both Andros Townsend and Aaron Lennon woefully out of form, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that Johnson could sneak into Roy Hodgson's England World Cup squad.

A decent showing at Wembley could put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons.

Equally as comfortable cutting inside or taking a wider berth along the left flank, Johnson's trickery will give Gael Clichy some food for thought and may curtail the Frenchman's own attacking ambitions. A fixture in the left-back slot when fit, Clichy has been consistency personified throughout his tenure in the City defence this season.

Having recently been dropped from the French squad, per Matt Jones of Goal.com, Clichy also has something to prove to his international manager Didier Deschamps

Where better to silence any doubters than in a Wembley final?

 

Yaya Toure vs. Jack Colback

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Jack Colback could prove a real thorn in Yaya Toure's side.

For David and Goliath, read Toure and Colback. City's man-mountain against the tigerish Sunderland central-midfield anchor.

On paper it really should be no contest, but as Poyet told Louise Taylor of The Guardian, Colback is an outside bet for the World Cup on current form:

There's always one that goes to the World Cup that no one expects.

He's got the legs, he presses and he passes the ball. He cares a lot about the ball which people don't always see.

Now he's started to make the extra runs into the box which is great for us because, with our system, we need people pressing.

So who knows what might happen now.

Through his sheer size, Toure is used to dominating the players and areas around him, but Colback won't give him a moment's peace. His boundless energy will track the Ivorian's penetrative runs all game long and, as he showed in the recent north-east derby, Colback rarely wastes a pass once in possession.

If Toure can escape those shackles even for a moment, then he will be the match winner.

Adept at finishing from long range, or providing an added attacking presence, he is the man for the big occasion. It's therefore imperative for Sunderland that his influence is kept to a minimum.

 

Conclusion

If Manchester City are allowed to play their natural game then there will only be one winner. But as Wigan showed in last season's FA Cup final, if the flow of play can be disrupted, then Sunderland have more than a puncher's chance.

The Black Cats can draw inspiration from their result earlier in the season, but City's free-scoring attack will provide the sternest of tests.

We could be in for a classic.

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