Manchester City vs Aston Villa
It’s the first showpiece of the 2019/2020 season.
The first major piece of silverware is up for grabs and the side which has actually won the last three domestic trophies (a clean sweep of four if you include the Charity Shield) is the overwhelming favourites to win again.
It’s hard to imagine anything other than a Manchester City victory in the EFL Cup Final at Wembley against strugglers Aston Villa, even more so as this game comes just four days after they famously won in the Bernabeu against the mighty Real Madrid.
Add in the fact that only last month, City put six goals past Aston Villa on their own turf in the Premier League. And it’s crystal clear why some City optimists even think the score line could be similar.
While there is a gulf on paper, there is no question that in dramatically getting past Leicester City in last month’s semi-finals, Villa provided some of this season’s EFL Cup highlights.
There is also no doubt they have exceeded all expectations and their appearance in the League Cup Final is a bonus in what is their first top-flight season for three years and one in which survival is a priority.
They have shown glimpses of their best this term, more often than not at Villa Park, and are not realistically expected to lift their first major trophy since 1996.
Boss Dean Smith tore into his players after their 2-0 defeat to Southampton last weekend and hinted a raft of changes could be on the cards. Or is that a threat to ensure there’s no repeat showing in the final?
Goalkeepers Jed Steer and Tom Heaton remain sidelined but Orjan Nyland is likely to dust off his gloves ahead of Pepe Reina having played a key role in getting Villa this far.
Anwar El Ghazi and Keinan Davis are both doubts.
For City, losing their best defender in Aymeric Laporte for up to a month just after he had returned is a big blow.
Nicolas Otamendi failed to impress at the Bernabeu. But with John Stones seemingly out of favour, the Argentine should start this one.
Leroy Sane, who was injured in the Charity Shield at Wembley in August, is nearing a return but won’t be ready to face Villa.
How this fixture used to be a bastion of two sleeping giants, clubs who had traditionally enjoyed success but struggled in modern times until the 2008 takeover of City changed all that.
While Villa have not featured in a showpiece occasion since being beaten narrowly by Manchester United in the 2010 League Cup Final, City have become regulars and serial winners down Wembley Way.
Victory on Sunday and this will be their third successive League Cup triumph and a fourth in five years.
They will be on a real high after their win in Madrid, making it three in a row across all competitions. And few will have forgotten the 6-1 thrashing they handed out to Villa a matter of weeks ago.
On their day, Pep Guardiola’s expensively assembled side can dismantle any team on the planet and that feels like the most likely outcome here as City aim for a seventh success in the competition which would leave them just one behind the record for most League Cup wins.
City have enjoyed 73 wins against Villa who have tasted victory on 57 occasions themselves. A further 41 meetings have ended level pegging.
The fixture has been dominated by City over the past decade with Villa winning just two of their last 15 meetings.
In fact, they have been beaten by a collective score of 17-1 in their past four matches.
Villa last saw off City in September 2013 when three unlikely scorers sealed a famous 3-2 win – Karim El Ahmadi, Leandro Bacuna and Andi Weimann.
Yaya Toure and Edin Dzeko had twice put City in front. They went onto win the title that season.
One ray of hope for Villa, however, is their last meeting in the League Cup that saw them win 4-2 after extra time at the Etihad Stadium in 2012.
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