Manuel Pellegrini Faces Vital Decision Ahead of Manchester City's Wembley Date

Rob Pollard@@RobPollard_Featured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2016

The Manchester City squad take part in a training session in Manchester on February 26, 2016, ahead of the English League Cup Final against Liverpool at Wembley Stadium on Sunday February 28, 2016. AFP PHOTO/PAUL ELLIS / AFP / PAUL ELLIS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  /         (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

The League Cup, often seen as the poor relation to the more illustrious FA Cup, provides Manchester City with a wonderful opportunity.

They face Liverpool on Sunday in the competition's final at Wembley. Victory would see them win a major piece of silverware, a significant moment—given last season was a trophyless affair—that would lay down a marker for the rest of the season.

Manuel Pellegrini's men have suffered a turbulent campaign, but Wednesday's win in Ukraine against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League was brilliant and well-timed. After three defeats on the bounce, a high-energy, tactically astute display was just what City needed.

Liverpool have already beaten City this season, a 4-1 hammering at the Etihad Stadium in November. Their high-pressing game had Pellegrini's side flustered. They couldn't cope. Rarely have they been so overwhelmed inside their own stadium. A repeat at Wembley would be a disaster.

“Liverpool played a very good game at the Etihad,” Pellegrini admitted on Friday. “We made a lot of mistakes in the first 15 minutes, so that decided the game, but all the games are different.”

Manchester City's Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini takes part in a training session in Manchester on February 26, 2016, ahead of the English League Cup Final against Liverpool at Wembley Stadium on Sunday February 28, 2016.  / AFP / PAUL ELLIS / RESTRICT
PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Pellegrini will depart the club at the end of the season and will want to go out on a high. A second consecutive season without silverware would leave his time in charge shrouded in disappointment. After winning the club's first league-and-cup double in his first season in charge, it would be a limp finish to a tenure that started so positively.

And in goal he has a huge decision to make. Does Willy Caballero, the man who has played in every round of the competition thus far, play in the final on Sunday, or does he opt for Joe Hart, arguably the club's most consistent player this season?

Caballero, clearly, has been identified as City's domestic cup 'keeper this season, yet his performances, including Sunday's game at Chelsea, aren't deserving of a showpiece final. He's looked poor this season when he's been given a chance.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Willy Caballero, Joe Hart and Richard Wright of Manchester City during a training session at the Manchester City Football Academy on February 26, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Of course, playing infrequently, particularly for a goalkeeper, is difficult, but his displays simply haven't inspired confidence.

Pellegrini picked Costel Pantilimon, who was Hart's back-up, for the League Cup final in 2014. That was the right decision. Pantilimon had performed well en route to the final, and dropping him would have been harsh.

Caballero's situation is different. He's made mistakes against Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea and has yet to have a truly inspired game, whereas Hart has arguably been the best 'keeper in the Premier League.

Pellegrini's legacy, surely, is more important than an agreement between himself and a player he brought with him from Malaga. It would be an odd decision to leave Hart out of such a key fixture.

The City boss is boosted by the return of three players ahead of Sunday's game. Wilfried Bony, Eliaquim Mangala and Jesus Navas are all back in training and could play.

PELLEGRINI: “Mangala, Navas and Bony are training normally and are available for selection.” #cityatwembley #mcfc

— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) February 26, 2016

“The players are recovering from the last game they played," Pellegrini said. "Bony, Mangala and Navas are training now with the squad, so I hope those three are available for the game."

After a season riddled with injury problems, Pellegrini appears to be getting his squad back into decent shape. It's the ideal time. Their season hasn't gone perfectly, but there's plenty left for them to achieve. 

Their first opportunity to win something comes on Sunday, and their manager must opt for his strongest XI. Unfortunately for Caballero, that doesn't include him. 

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Joe Hart juggles as ball as Wilfredo Caballero and Vincent Kompany look on during a Manchester City training session at the City Football Academy on February 26, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Lives
Alex Livesey/Getty Images


Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2015/16 season. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard_.