Manchester City favourites but fear stumble in League Cup final
After losing to Wigan in last year's FA Cup final, Manuel Pellegrini's side don't want to fail again in the League Cup decider against Sunderland
Ten months on from their shock FA Cup final defeat by Wigan Athletic, Manchester City find themselves again cast as potential Goliaths ahead of today's League Cup decider against Sunderland.
As in last May, City will start as favourites against a team residing third from bottom in the Premier League relegation zone, but the experience of that rain-soaked Wembley day will steel them against complacency.
Then, a stoppage-time Ben Watson header gave Wigan victory, producing the biggest FA Cup final shock in 25 years and precipitating the departure of City coach Roberto Mancini, who was sacked two days later.
By then, City had already conceded the league title to Manchester United, but although Mancini's successor, Manuel Pellegrini, has enjoyed a fine debut campaign, his side's momentum has slowed in recent weeks.
They are only three points off the top in the league with a game in hand, but a recent home defeat by Chelsea exposed previously unseen vulnerability, while a 2-0 loss to Barcelona has left them on the verge of elimination in the Champions League.
City remain in contention in the FA Cup, having been handed a chance of revenge against Wigan in the last eight, but a loss to Sunderland could have damaging implications for the rest of the campaign.
While Pellegrini has played down similarities with last season's FA Cup final, he concedes it could prove a source of motivation for his players.
"I don't like to talk with them about what happened last year, but I am sure for every player it is a lesson," he said. "It is very beautiful to play for a title at Wembley and very awful to lose it.
"For all of them it is not revenge - it is another team, another year, another situation - but I am absolutely sure all will be 100 per cent motivated to win."
City's chances have been enhanced by the news that top scorer Sergio Aguero is in contention to play after missing the past five matches with a hamstring injury.
The game will be Sunderland's first-ever visit to the new Wembley Stadium, which opened in 2007, and their first appearance in a major final since a 2-0 loss to Liverpool in the 1992 FA Cup. The old Wembley stadium held special memories for the club, however, as it was there in May 1973 that a second-tier side led by trilby-wearing former manager Bob Stokoe stunned the mighty Leeds United to win the FA Cup.
It was the last piece of silverware that Sunderland won, but 31,000 fans will travel to London in anticipation of another famous upset.
Sunderland have enjoyed great success in the cup competitions this season, having beaten Chelsea and Manchester United en route to the League Cup final and reaching the quarter-finals in the FA Cup.
Manager Gus Poyet, who succeeded the sacked Paolo Di Canio in October, continues to maintain that Premier League survival remains his top priority, but he admits that he cannot ignore the romance of a trip to Wembley.
"It's going to be special," said the Uruguayan, who won the FA Cup at Wembley as a player with Chelsea in 2000.
"Firstly because I was not expecting this in my first season here, and secondly because everything was very, very dark and sad when we got here.
"Now we are 90 minutes away - or 120 - from being the happiest people in England."