Man City vs Chelsea – Carabao Cup Final Preview
February 22, 2019
The first proper silverware of the season is up for grabs this weekend in the Carabao Cup final. It’s set up to be a cracking match as well, with some of the best players in England featuring. So, let’s just jump into it and have a look at some of the big talking points ahead of the game.
The Magic Myth
There’s a growing concern in English football that the domestic cups have lost their magic. Last week’s FA Cup weekend was a prime example of this, with the action feeling more like an international break than the start of a cup run. As sides increasingly favour league positions over the chance of silverware, some have even argued that its very existence has become redundant. But as the Carabao Cup final draws near and my beloved Manchester City edge ever closer towards Wembley’s fabled arches, I find myself pulled straight back in.
No matter what anyone says, it’s a trophy worth winning and Manchester City have shown a greater appreciation for the competition than perhaps anyone else in the league. When they faced Burton Albion in the semi-final, punters and pundits alike gawked at the squad they put out. After they scored nine goals, some even suggested that it was disrespectful of City to not let up on a definitively beaten Burton. I can’t understand it and find it even more perplexing when these kinds of comments come from the same commentators who lament the cup’s current status.
The Citizen’s commitment to the pursuit of every trophy available has been particularly fruitful in this competition. They have won three of the past five finals, with their great rivals Manchester United and upcoming opponents Chelsea the only other winners in that time frame. And, for all the talk about the tournament’s deterioration, those matches were some of the best of my life. I remember Yaya Touré and Samir Nasri both scoring screamers in two minutes against Sunderland, Willy Caballero making three penalty saves in a row to deny Liverpool and the total domination of Arsenal last year. These weren’t just great from City supporters’ point of view, each was an entertaining spectacle more than worthy of a final, and this weekend’s match should be no different.
It doesn’t hurt that the team they’re facing has one of the best squads in the league, even if they’re not currently playing like it. Chelsea have formed something of a rivalry with City in recent years. Both are ‘new money’ clubs, have experienced greats highs since their respective takeovers and their achievements are frequently scrutinised by rival supporters. Regardless of these attempts to illegitimate the success, the two blues find themselves battling in the final once again. In fact, only one team has bettered Chelsea and Man City’s record in the competition, Liverpool with eight wins to their five.
If certain teams or individuals feel that the cups inherent valued has waned, it’s only because of how they themselves have treated it. If they think that it’s less of a trophy, it’s because they’ve not won it. On Sunday, I’m sure you’d be hard pressed to find someone from either set of fans who isn’t feeling the magic.
Despite the obvious qualities of both sides, there’s a clear favourite in the tie, and of course it’s City at 4/7 with Ladbrokes. In terms of ability, I don’t think there’s too much between them, but form would suggest that the trophy might be heading back to Manchester. It’s only been two weeks since the last time the teams met and, in that match, there was no question to who the better side was as City found themselves 4-0 up within the first half hour. The scoreline read six at the final whistle, Chelsea’s worst defeat in the Premier League.
In spite of all this, there is an undeniably worry in the back of my mind. It might just be the usual pre-final nerves, but I suspect it’s down to the vulnerability City have shown over the past couple of months. On the surface, things look like they’re going swimmingly. Top of the table, involved in all competitions and now a cup final to look forward to. However, I just can’t shake the feeling that something seems a little off.
Take their most recent Champions League fixture against struggling Bundesliga side Schalke. It was a crazy match; two penalties, a red card, a 35 screamer of a free kick and last gasp winner to complete the turnaround. When the final whistle blew, I, like most other City fans, was ecstatic. So much so that I forgot we could have easily lost the match. The VAR debacle aside, Schalke’s near shock result was born from failures on City’s part.
There was no doubt the German’s second was a penalty and it was an absolutely needless one too. Fernandinho, a man whose importance to the club has never been more apparent than this year, essentially gifted them the goal. If that wasn’t enough, Nicolas Otamendi made an equally unnecessary challenge which earned him a justified red card. These mistakes were obvious, but City’s general level of play was below par as well. There have been a number of occasions already this season where City have taken an early lead, only to slip up and let the other team back into the tie.
City have, for the most part, been getting away with the brief moments of sloppiness they’ve shown. Normally I’d be happy about this. After all, the tenacity and perseverance City showed despite not being at their best won them the match in the end, but there are too many mistakes creeping in at the minute. At some point, they’re going to have a lapse that they won’t be able to come back from and I have a horrible feeling it might be this Sunday.
Chelsea fans might scoff at this idea, after all, they’ve had to endure much worse this season, Maurizio Sarri might be publicly state that there’s been no talk of his future from the club’s hierarchy, but given the trigger-happy nature of Roman Abramovich with managers, you feel something has to change. For the Chelsea boss, delivering a trophy by defeating City would certainly go some way to redeeming his reputation. It’s not just him either, Chelsea’s players have a point to prove.
Nobody doubt’s the quality of the likes of Eden Hazard, but they have questioned the mentality. Commentators have even suggested that there’s a cabal of players in the Chelsea dressing room who simply refuse to play well if they don’t feel like it. I don’t believe this is true, but the mere suggestion should provoke a response and that’s exactly what I think we’ll see. People forget that it was this Chelsea team that inflicted City’s first league loss of the season, a result that affected the Citizen’s form throughout December. Chelsea need the win and they’ve got more than enough in them to get it.
The biggest news from the Chelsea camp is that the most expensive keeper in the world, Kepa Arrizabalaga, is a doubt for the trip to Wembley. Now, the thought of the opposition’s keeper being out of the tie should be music to my ears, but it’s not. That’s because the second choice is none other than Willy Caballero who, as I’ve already mentioned, produced some heroics for City in the League Cup back in 2016. He’s a decent keeper anyway, but I expect he’ll relish the opportunity to play in a final again and we might see a repeat of his last Wembley visit.
Apart from that, Chelsea have a clean bill of health. As such, expect to see the regulars make an appearance. David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger will be counted on in the centre of defence, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Davide Zappacosta starting on the wings. Jorginho will start in the defensive midfield role, with Kante and Ross Barkley partnering. Sarri likes to us a front three, Willian’s form will be enough to seal his place. New signing Gonzalo Higuain has to start as well, and it would be unthinkable if Hazard didn’t make the team sheet.
City, on the other hand, have a few players out. The most notable absences will be that of Gabriel Jesus and John Stones. While it’s not been confirmed that they will indeed miss out, they weren’t included in the Champions League squad in midweek. City have more than enough to compensate for Jesus, despite his red-hot form, but Stone’s absence may be more difficult to navigate. With Otamendi giving a poor showing against Schalke and Vincent Kompany’s constant fitness concerns, Stones is a gap they will struggle to fill.
Claudio Bravo is still out with a long-term injury sustained early on in the season, but this has opened the door open for youngster Aro Muric. The Kosovan has featured in every Carabao Cup game so far and has impressed both Pep and the fans. His form is good and I see no reason why he wouldn’t be in the starting line-up on Sunday. With news of Stone’s’ injury, I think Aymeric Laporte and Otamendi will be paired in front of the young keeper with Oleksandr Zinchenko and Kyle Walker operating in the fullback positions.
Fernandinho has been played in a hybrid centre back/midfield position in past weeks, but he struggled in this role against Schalke. As such, I think he will play in a much more defined and conventional role, with Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva relied upon to supply the attack. Up front, I’d be shocked if Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane didn’t start. Sane’s presence immediately improved the team when he came on in midweek and Sterling has the ability to snatch victory even when his teammates aren’t playing well. City’s striker? Who else but the indomitable Sergio Aguero?
With both teams mostly at full strength and the prospect of silverware dangling in front of them, I think we’re going to be in for a close match. Sarri simply cannot allow a repeat of the last time they faced City and the players won’t want to have to go through that again. That said, City have become something of specialists in this competition and I’d be surprised if they didn’t run out eventual winners.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea – 13/2 with Black Type
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Cyrus has been writing about sports and many other topics for major publications over the past five years. Now working in digital marketing, he spends his days arguing over football and dreaming of his beloved Manchester City winning the champions league.