Manchester City face Aston Villa at Wembley on Sunday 1 March in the League Cup Final.
I have been lucky enough to have seen Manchester City win the League Cup Final at Wembley already on 5 occasions in the last 44 years – I am hoping to see a 6th win on Sunday.
This particular competition has a special place in my affections and the fact other teams have not treated it with respect has not lessened my enjoyment at all. Quite the contrary, by fully respecting the competition City should be applauded by all the lower league sides.
On Sunday City will face a Dean Smith Aston Villa team deep in the mire of a relegation battle. Their lavish Summer spending has not worked and poor League form has left them at risk of slipping back into the Championship.
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Of course as City already acutely know, league form does not count for anything in a Cup Final. This will be a holiday of sorts for the Villa players, who can relax and hope – free from the burdens which have dogged their travails.
City will be buoyed by the Real Madrid result but are unlikely to be met with much respect from Villa, who will no doubt have a plan to get up and at us as quickly as possible.
We will have to whether the storm and hope that there are no dodgy red cards around to level the game up. Villa’ s heads will drop if City edge into a lead and if we get a couple of goals the game could become very comfortable.
Trying to predict a Pep Guardiola starting line up is increasingly hard. There are however a few givens. Claudio Bravo will likely start in the City goal in what could well be his last appearance for the Club.
Fernandinho who play at centre half and De Bruyne will play in midfield. Other than that, every other slot in the team is up for grabs.
We know that Leroy Sane is still out, having played 60 minutes of a comeback game for the Under 23’s on Friday evening. We know that Aymeric Laporte is now nursing a hamstring injury to keep him out of the team for around a month, but everyone else is fit.
Guardiola tends to pick sides with the opposition style of play in mind, so will be mindful of Jack Grealish and Villa trying to exploit the channels in the counter attacks.
I hope Kyle Walker is given the nod at right back for his pace and that Joao Cancelo is at left back. I believe that gives us options to switch to a back three in possession.
John Stones appears so far out of favour that it would be a surprise to see him on the starting team sheet, so a nod for Nicolas Otamendi appears a better bet.
Rodrigo will be defensive midfield and hopefully he can build upon a better display in Madrid. Alongside him and De Bruyne should be either David Silva or Phil Foden. I would expect Silva to get that nod.
Up front Gabriel Jesus has been playing well and Sergio Aguero has been on a run of indifferent form in front of goal. But I would start a fully fit and eager Sergio in this game. There is always the option to deploy Jesus.
Raheem Sterling should start which leaves the right sided attacking slot as the last one available in our side. This is usually a straight choice between Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva. On the big Wembley pitch I would choose Riyad and give him the opportunity to impose himself on a Cup Final.
Winning on Sunday would be a tremendous achievement for the Club. Three in a row will equal the Liverpool side of the early 1980s but will most importantly continue our momentum into the run of games which lie ahead. Let us hope for another Kevin de Bruyne masterclass and a relaxing day which we can enjoy.