Sunderland and Manchester City come face to face in the final of the Capital One Cup on Sunday afternoon, and while they are experiencing very different Premier League campaigns to date, that form will go out the window for this occasion.
Gus Poyet’s side has already disposed of Manchester United over two legs, while City will be all too aware of underestimating a relegation-threatened side after last year’s FA Cup final.
Considering the squad at their disposal, Manuel Pellegrini’s team will kick off as heavy favourites, but here are three reasons the Black Cats and their fans should be quietly confident:
Sunderland have an outstanding recent record against City, winning their last four matches at the Stadium of Light all 1-0. And while Blues fans will point to a whole host of missed chances, the simple fact is the Black Cats held out for the win on each occasion.
Of course Wembley is an entirely different prospect, but Poyet will surely use those victories to reinforce the fact that Sunderland have beaten City before so why not do it again.
The games to come
City may have been beaten 2-0 by Barcelona in the Champions League last-16 first-leg but they will not have given up that particular ghost. They will also know that they could be as many as six points behind Chelsea before they play another league match, and even with games in hand that will take an effort to overhaul.
They may have the squad to cope, but the League Cup may remain the least of their priorities. Given that they may have one eye on the battles to come, this could be the perfect chance for Sunderland to beat them to the trophy.
Yes, Poyet’s men are still in the FA Cup and fighting for Premier League survival themselves, but they should have more than enough to escape, leaving Sunday as their biggest match of the season, while for City it is not even their biggest of the month.
The contrasting-fear factor
Both sides will be fearful, but while the Blues may be worried about a repeat of the Wigan upset and what that could mean for the rest of their season, Sunderland have nothing to lose. They are not expected to win, the very factor that has been the catalyst for so many upsets down the years.
In short, this could be a battle of nervous anxiety versus nervous excitement, and Sunderland may just triumph as a result.
image: © Ben Sutherland