Capital One Cup 2014 Final: Biggest Storylines Heading into Wembley Clash

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IMarch 1, 2014

Joe Hart faces Wembley heartache.
Joe Hart faces Wembley heartache.Scott Heppell/Associated Press

Ask Manchester City and Sunderland whether this competition is inferior and not a priority, and you will likely get the expected answer.

When teams arrive at a final, there is a certainty that they do not want to return home with a loser's medal.

It's entirely fair to have expected Manuel Pellegrini's side to have made it this far. A 9-0 aggregate win over West Ham United in the semi-finals merely underlined their all round excellence.

To discount Gus Poyet's hard-working Sunderland side is more than a little premature, however.

Premier League woes aside, Sunderland have more than deserved their place at Wembley. Despite being the underdog, Poyet has guided his side to a hat-trick of 2-1 victories over Southampton, Chelsea and Manchester United, respectively.

No mean feat when you consider the talent at the disposal of their more celebrated opponents.

The Black Cats also have a bit of a sign over the Citizens, the latter only victorious on a solitary occasion in the last five.

Whilst Poyet is unlikely to have his troops stand toe-to-toe with the swashbucklers from Manchester, his team have nothing to lose.

As Wigan showed in last season's FA Cup Final against the same opposition, upsets can and do happen, and Pellegrini underestimates his rival at his peril.


Biggest Storylines

The return of Sergio Aguero

Manchester City's top scorer returns to the starting line-up at just the right time for Manuel Pellegrini. 

The young Argentine has been a thorn in most opposition defences throughout this season, and 26 goals is a fantastic return for a player who has missed the last five games through injury.

As the player who brought City their first Premier League title in 44 years, Aguero is more than used to handling the pressure of being the "main man," and so, it should prove again in this match.

Both Wes Brown and John O'Shea managed to keep him quiet the last time the two teams met (per, and O'Shea will need to put in another man-of-the-match showing to keep Aguero quiet at Wembley. 


Hart out, Pantilimon in

In a surprise move, Costel Pantilimon will replace Joe Hart again between the sticks for Manchester City.
In a surprise move, Costel Pantilimon will replace Joe Hart again between the sticks for Manchester City.Michael Regan/Getty Images

After forcing his way back into Pellegrini's plans, it will be a bitter pill for Joe Hart to swallow when he is dropped again for the final.

Jamie Jackson of The Guardian notes that:

Manchester City's players were given a clear hint during Friday's training session regarding who will be in Manuel Pellegrini's starting XI.

Joe Hart is resigned to missing Sunday's Capital One Cup final, with Costel Pantilimon set to be chosen for the Wembley showpiece with Sunderland.

Hart has recaptured some of his best form of late, so the decision to leave him out is a baffling one, and to tinker with your first choice line-up at this late stage could come back to haunt the Chilean.

The 26-year-old Hart told Football Focus:

You have to be able to accept when you are playing or not.

When managers have got decisions to make, whether it benefits me or not, I have to be man enough to take it.

I work hard every day to win and I understand it doesn't always go my way and you have to move forward.

It's a magnanimous viewpoint, but this must surely spell the end of his time at the Etihad.


Cup win key to Sunderland's Premier League survival

Gus Poyet knows what a positive effect a cup win will have on his players.
Gus Poyet knows what a positive effect a cup win will have on his players.Scott Heppell/Associated Press

Embroiled in a relegation battle since taking the reins at the Stadium of Light, the Capital One Cup run has proved a welcome distraction for Gus Poyet and his men.

The air of calm that pervades the training ground is in stark contrast to the beginning of the season, Paolo Di Canio but a distant and unhappy memory in the North East.

Poyet knows that a victory tomorrow could ultimately propel his side forward in the race for Premier League survival, and as such, this game becomes something of a must-win for the Black Cats.

The manager has even gone as far as ranking a cup final win above the mission for his side to remain in English football's top division:

Whilst there is very real pressure on Poyet's side to deliver, the manager ensures that this isn't transmitted directly to the players, perhaps something that Di Canio did all too readily.

Midfielder Jack Colback told Luke Edwards of the Daily Telegraph:

He’s serious when he needs to be, but calm at other times and he’s relaxed when he wants to be.

He brings a spirit and camaraderie into the squad and it’s a good mix.

His staff are the same as well.

It's a management style that obviously sits well with all of his playing staff. Adam Johnson was similarly effusive in his praise:

He’s got us playing together better as a team and when you’re playing better as a team the individuals come into the game more.

We’ve had the ball a lot more than we have done in the last probably eight months. We’ve controlled matches more than we’ve been controlled.

Clearly, the feel-good factor and confidence that a cup win would engender will be a welcome bonus for Poyet's more arduous task of keeping his side in the Premier League.