Sunderland will travel to Wembley Stadium this Sunday to take on Manchester City in the 2014 Capital One Cup Final, and saying they'll be going into the tie as underdogs would be an understatement. The Citizens are hungry for silverware and will be boosted by the return of top striker Sergio Aguero, per Sky Sports:
Sergio Aguero is back training with Man City and will be available for the Capital One Cup Final on Sunday - get the latest on #SSN— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) February 28, 2014
The Black Cats will have their work cut out for them if they want to beat City, but as we saw in last year's FA Cup Final, nothing is impossible. Wigan Athletic took the game right to the favourites and came away with a shocking win.
Sunderland are not Wigan, and a similar approach to Sunday's tie might have a disastrous result, but the Cats are going into this game having beaten City in two out of their last three meetings and should feel confident they can pull off the upset. Here are the biggest keys to a Sunderland win.
Limit space in the final third
In Alvaro Negredo and Aguero, City boast arguably the best attacking duo in the entire Premier League. The two have a combined 38 goals already this season and will be looking to add to their tally on Sunday. Stopping one of them is hard enough, but Whoscored.com believe the two might start alongside.
Their biggest strength lies in their movement skills, both off and on the ball, and if Sunderland are to have any hope of containing this formidable duo, they will have to find a way to stop them from running through the defense.
Gus Poyet needs to employ a compact defense and force the Citizens to play the ball wide. By keeping play out on the wings, Sunderland can neutralise City's biggest goalscoring threats and focus on defending the countless crosses David Silva and Samir Nasri will no doubt fire into the box.
The right Adam Johnson needs to show up
Manchester City are a ball-heavy team, and chances are they will dominate possession on Sunday, opening up opportunities for Sunderland on the counter. Chances will not come easy to the Cats, and if they are to beat City, they will have to make the most of them. That's where Johnson comes into play.
When the former City midfielder is on, his pace and skills in distributing the ball make him the ideal pivot when running the counter. He just needs to show up. He can be incredibly inconsistent and will disappear at times, something Sunderland cannot afford to happen this Sunday.
Johnson has the skill set to make life hard on the Citizens and play a decisive role in this game. Whether he comes through for the Black Cats will be up to him.
Vito Mannone needs to display his short memory
When it comes to football, every upset starts with a valiant effort by the underdog's goalkeeper.
Mannone seems to be in perfect position to put fort such an effort, having enjoyed a breakout campaign with Sunderland. Unfortunately, his last performance against Arsenal was one of the worst of his season, with the Italian stopper conceding four times.
'Keepers will have bad games. It happens to the best of them. But every good 'keeper needs to have a short memory—the ability to completely forget what just happened and focus on the next game. By allowing a bad performance to find a way into your head, you're inviting doubt to creep in.
Mannone is having a great season and has arguably been Sunderland's most valuable player. If the Black Cats are to have any chance of beating City, their Italian 'keeper will be key.