Man City plays Sunderland in League Cup final; Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea play in league
Thursday, Feb 27, 2014 08:00 am
LONDON - Manchester City can win the first trophy of the English season this weekend when it plays Sunderland at Wembley in the League Cup final.
City is three points away from the top of the league with a game in hand while Sunderland is in the relegation zone and faces a battle to secure its status as a Premier League club.
"A cup final is always special and this one is a chance for us to take a very positive step forward this season," said City manager Manuel Pellegrini, who is trying to win his first piece of silverware for the club.
The rest of the top four are all away from home in the league: Chelsea takes on London rival Fulham, Arsenal travels to Stoke and Liverpool plays Southampton.
Here are five things to know about the upcoming matches:
Manchester City is the favourite going into the League Cup final on Sunday, but Sunderland has a history of springing an upset.
In the last four seasons, Sunderland has won 1-0 in every game between the two at the Stadium of Light. Its victory last November, when defender Phil Bardsley scored the goal to separate the two sides, will give hope that it can surprise City again.
"That game in particular gives us that belief that it is possible," Sunderland manager Gus Poyet said. "If you lose against a team all the time, it is very difficult to convince a player that this is going to be the right time to beat them."
Sergio Aguero could play for Manchester City after returning to training Tuesday following a hamstring injury.
Stoke has beaten Chelsea and Manchester United at home this season, as well as drawing with Manchester City, and it will look to add another upset to its list against Arsenal on Saturday.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger gave his players two days off this week to rest, and he believes his players will be mentally fresher for it.
"We came out of a very heavy schedule. Sometimes it is not only physical, it is mental," Wenger said. "You are always under pressure to perform."
Wenger's team could be without left backs Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs, so Thomas Vermaelen could play there. Wenger has also said that Mesut Ozil is back in the squad after being left out of the 4-1 win over Sunderland.
KEEP IT UP
Liverpool travels to ninth-place Southampton looking to keep up its own title challenge, but will hope for an improved display from last weekend's 4-3 win over Swansea.
The four goals it scored meant it overtook City to become top scorer in the league, but looked defensively vulnerable and twice surrendered the lead.
"If you want to be in the top four or win the league, you need to defend well," Liverpool defender Kolo Toure said. "We are scoring a lot of goals but for sure we need to get a better balance."
Felix Magath's first home game as Fulham manager is against city rival Chelsea, as he looks to guide his team to Premier League safety. Chelsea knows a win keeps it at the top of the league and even a point for Fulham, in last place, would be considered a surprise.
But with Sunderland playing in the cup, it gives an opportunity for the teams at the bottom to put pressure on the finalists to pick up points when it returns to league play.
VILLA NEEDS WIN
Aston Villa has not scored in its last three league games and is only four points clear of the relegation zone. It faces Norwich, manager Paul Lambert's former club, knowing defeat could push it nearer to the wrong end of the league table.
With Norwich defeating Tottenham 1-0 last week, Villa's opponent will be full of confidence but captain Ron Vlaar believes his side will be safe at the end of the season.
"Obviously, we know the situation we are in," Vlaar said. "We have 11 games left and we need to get the results we need. We know we can do this."