LONDON – Manchester City led by Spanish coach Pep Guardiola will be seeking its first title of the season when it takes on Chelsea in the EFL Cup final.
City, the defending champion, arrives at Wembley stadium in the best condition, having trounced Maurizio Sarri’s team 6-0 two weeks ago in Premier League action.
The Citizens then managed to rally back from a 2-1 deficit to prevail over Schalke 3-2 in the first round of the UEFA Champions League round of 16, despite playing the last 22 minutes with a numerical disadvantage as Argentina midfielder Nicolas Otamendi was sent off.
Guardiola has several options on the bench for the game in which Germany attacking midfielder Leroy Sane is expected to start, after a great performance he put in during the Champions League clash in which he scored the equalizer with five minutes to go before the second half stoppage time.
Having scored his 13th goal of the season, Sane became City’s third-top scorer, following Argentina forward Sergio Aguero (24) and England right winger Raheem Sterling (15).
Guardiola still has a decision to make regarding the left side of the field; whether to count on a center back such as France’s Aymeric Laporte, who played in that position when he was at Athletic, or Ukraine’s Oleksandr Zinchenko, who has more experience down the left side.
At the other end of the field, Chelsea has been struggling not only with the uncertainty that surrounds Sarri’s future at the club, but also institutional problems.
The 6-0 rout by City at the Etihad Stadium, followed by a 2-0 defeat by Manchester United in the fifth round of the FA Cup brought Sarri under fire, especially for being unable to change his playing system.
Sarri’s four-man defense has proven to be a failure, Brazilian-born, Italy midfielder Jorge Luiz Frello Filho, best known as Jorginho, has not been able to find his stride and France midfielder N’Golo Kante seems to be lost on the field, which frustrated Chelsea fans.
The goalkeeping position brings the biggest dilemma in Sarri’s starting lineup for Sunday’s game, as Kepa Arrizabalaga of Spain was dropped from the squad in Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Malmo in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 with a hamstring injury.
His replacement could be Argentina’s Willy Caballero, who conceded seven goals in the matches he has played this season.
Off the field, FIFA banned Chelsea from signing any new players for the next two transfer windows in connection to violation in its contracting of under-18 players, which added fuel to the fire.
However, Chelsea fans hope the team draws strength from its run at the tournament, having knocked out Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur on its way to the final.