The Manchester City players spent a considerable amount of time on the pitch in their suits, soaking up the atmosphere. For the new signings, the opportunity of playing at arguably the world’s most iconic stadium. For those who were a part of last year’s FA Cup final, the chance to erase the pain. This really meant something. They were up against a side whose motivation was to create club history. Sunderland played as though they were enjoying the occasion, their thoughts a million miles away from their precarious Premier League status. The extra man in midfield allowed them to shut down Yaya Toure and Fernandinho. It was a game plan that had been carefully executed but it’s difficult to account for genius – that is what they were beaten by. The sheer gulf in finance and talent proved too much over 90 minutes. It was always going to be hugely difficult to get a second goal with City no longer requiring to chase the game. More protection was given to the troubled Martin Demichelis. Manuel Pellegrini and his players can use the confidence of lifting the season’s first trophy to push on in the league and FA Cup, but they will first enjoy the satisfaction of winning a hard-fought Wembley final. You never know when your next one will be.
If their players had to focus on the almighty task in hand, the hordes of Mackems that descended on London after a long and, in many cases tin-fuelled, journey down were there to celebrate the occasion. This was to be a red and white party, regardless of the final score. City have lost their last four games at the Stadium of Light and Fabio Borini’s 10th-minute opener put the Black Cat army well on the way to generating a home atmosphere. City’s players gave their fans little to get excited about, bar some neat work from David Silva in and around the box. That was until the best midfielder in the country produced a moment of individual brilliance – you will struggle to pick out a better goal scored at the new Wembley than Toure’s 30-yard curler. Suddenly blue tails were up and Guy Poyet’s charges looked dead on their feet when Samir Nasri defied mathematics to complete the quickfire turnaround just a minute later. There was to be no way back but Sunderland can go home with their tails held high.
Demichelis has quickly become every neutral’s favourite City player. He turns games that should be comfortable into a fascinating spectacle. How many fixtures are they going to lose, or almost lose, before they call time on the Argentine’s illustrious career? At centre-back in particular, he looks vulnerable. It makes you feel bad for the onlooking Joleon Lescott, who must be wondering what the 33-year-old has to do for him to get a game. The England defender had played every round of the competition, only to be axed for the showpiece occasion. Europe’s top defenders are currently auditioning for the inevitable talent search that will take place in the summer – they will surely sign another centre-half regardless of how many trophies they win. Vincent Kompany is sometimes able to make miraculous challenges but he is liable to a mistake, such as the one he made when he was turned easily by Borini as they conceded an early goal. Capital One Cups can be won with Demichelis, but they can forget about the Champions League until they sign a better deputy for their captain.
The League Cup is unique in a way. Finals are usually associated with a glorious May afternoon, with a sense of wonder at what we’re going to do with three months of no football and a fulfilment of a team’s work over a full season. City’s players will enjoy tonight with a whole week to recover and refocus, but for both teams there can be no time to dwell on the game. Neither are enjoying a mid-table canter to the finish line, only two of the 20 Premier League teams are. City have a miracle to make in the Nou Camp and two more domestic trophies to fight for. Sunderland can afford to smile for a fortnight as they go to Hull in the FA Cup quarter-final next weekend, before the reality that they are still below the red line dawns and they attempt drag Crystal Palace back into the relegation picture. At both ends of the table, these teams are major players in what promises to be an enthralling season finale.
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