The League Cup may have been disparaged in some quarters, but for Manuel Pellegrini and Manchester City it represents their first opportunity for success this season. They play Sunderland in the final at Wembley on Sunday with the memory of their shock defeat to Wigan in last season’s FA Cup still fresh in their memory. Only a win will do this time around.
Pellegrini has a few selection dilemmas for the game. No player wants to miss being part of a showpiece final but, of course, some will be disappointed.
One area where the City manager has a particularly tricky decision is in goal. Costel Pantilimon, who has played in the majority previous rounds, was thought likely to start, however, something about Pellegrini’s body language when asked at his press conference in Carrington on Friday suggested he may be ready to play Joe Hart.
There’s a strong argument that it would be harsh on Pantilimon to be dropped after getting City to Wembley, but with Pellegrini in touching distance of his first major trophy since he left South America in 2004, the temptation to pick his best goalkeeper may prove too strong.
Pablo Zabaleta will almost certainly start at right-back, given he is fully fit and playing well while his understudy, Micah Richards, struggles for form.
Much like Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany is firmly the No. 1 in his position, will start at centre-back and captain the side. Alongside him is likely to be Martin Demichelis, although his suspension for the second leg of the Champions League last 16 tie with Barcelona—which means Joleon Lescott will start at the Nou Camp—could see him tempted to give the Englishman game time.
Left-back has been rotated fairly evenly all season, but with Adam Johnson providing one of Sunderland's biggest attacking threats, Pellegrini would be wise to pick Gael Clichy given he is better defensively. Aleksandar Kolarov may have improved in an attacking sense this season, but he remains suspect going toward his own goal.
In the midfield, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, when fit, pick themselves. They are the best centre-midfield partnership in the league and will very likely start together on Sunday. In the wide positions, with Samir Nasri and David Silva available, they will start, with James Milner and Jesus Navas on the bench if needed.
Sergio Aguero is back and available for the game but may not be considered from the start. He has between now and kick-off to prove his fitness. If Pellegrini feels there is any risk to his hamstring, he will play a reduced role. Alvaro Negredo will play, and, with Stevan Jovetic injured, Edin Dzeko will feature.
Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure, Nasri, Silva, Negredo and Aguero.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.