League Cup Final Preview

This Sunday will see two sides who, whilst struggling for league form, will battle it out in the League Cup final at Wembley. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool may be the underdogs, but are not to be ruled out, whilst Manuel Pellegrini is on a mission to win as much as possible before Pep Guardiola replaces him as City boss this summer.

Liverpool are the competition’s most successful side with 8 League Cups to their name, and they will be hoping to make it 9 tomorrow with a win.

Their journey begin with a round 3 tie against Carlisle which finished 1-1 at full time, before the match went to a penalty shoot out that Liverpool won to sneak through unconvincingly by the skin of their teeth.

They followed that victory with a 1-0 win over Bournemouth win a goal from Nathaniel Clyne, before their highly impressive 1-6 win away to Southampton where a Jordan Ibe goal, a Daniel Sturridge brace and a Divock Origi hat-trick helped secure the win after going behind in the first minute to a Sadio Mane goal.

In the first leg of the semi final, Jordan Ibe’s goal was the only strike of the match as they took a 0-1 lead into their second leg tie later.

Despite being at home this time, it was Liverpool themselves who suffered the 0-1 defeat through a goal from Marko Arnautovic, and after a goalless extra time period, there was only one way to decide it – it was penalties again, and, like in the third round, Liverpool won once more, taking them through to the final.

Manchester City first overcame Sunderland with a 1-4 away win before topping that with a 5-1 win at home to Crystal Palace in the fourth round.

The fifth round saw another comfortable victory in which they won 4-1 again with Hull being on the receiving end this time, and they were drawn against Everton in the semi-finals.

Romelu Lukaku’s winning goal but the toffees in the driving seat with a 2-1 win, and that left City with an uphill struggle to reach the final.

But in the second leg, despite going a goal down early on, a Kevin De Bruyne inspired comeback saw City win 3-1 and therefore reach Wembley.

Unfortunately for De Bruyne though, he was injured in stoppage time of that match, and hasn’t recovered in time for the final, so he will miss out, and it is still unclear as to whether Daniel Sturridge will be fit enough to have his say.

Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that a win tomorrow will confirm the steady improvements he is making with the club, so silverware already would be great for him, and as for Manchester City, Pellegrini will want to bow out in style, so this is a chance for glory.

Last time the two teams met Liverpool surprisingly won 4-1, but it is set to be much closer this time. We’ll see you at Wembley…

Double Preview: Sunday’s big games

In perhaps the most surprising season we’ve ever seen since the beginning of the Premier League back in 1992, the fixture list has presented us with a day of football to rule them all. 3rd place Arsenal could be looking at the biggest chance they’ll have of winning the title for years, and they host Leicester; the story of the season. The foxes are sat top of the table, and they will be brimming with confidence after their highly impressive 1-3 win over Manchester City last week, who host 2nd place Spurs, who themselves are thriving under the coaching methods of Mauricio Pochettino.

Starting with the earlier kick-off at the Emirates, Arsene Wenger’s side are level on points with local rivals Spurs, 1 point ahead of nearest challengers Man City, and 5 points off Leicester. Arsenal are one of just two teams to beat Leicester this season, and that win came when the Gunners triumphed 2-5 at the King Power Stadium in September. They’ll be looking to replicate that brilliant game again on Sunday, but how they will play is being hotly debated throughout the country.

As Leicester’s main strength is counter-attacking and using the pace of Vardy and Mahrez, you would think that it would be easier to sit off them and use their own tactic against them, and that would be possible for Arsenal as Walcott and Alexis are not short of pace themselves. It was Walcott and Alexis who scored 4 of the 5 goals in the reverse fixture, but, that was away, and it could prove a completely different situation at home. The crowd at the Emirates will be expecting Arsenal to take the game to the Foxes, but, that will leave them very exposed and vulnerable, so how Arsenal will approach the game could be very interesting.

As for Leicester themselves, we haven’t really seen them come up against a team who have sat 11 men behind the ball, and questions are still being asked about whether or not Claudio Ranieri’s side have the capabilities to break a team down.

Looking at Manchester City v Tottenham, the home side are in a strange situation with Pep Guardiola taking over this summer, but Manuel Pellegrini has the rest of the season to guide City to the highest league position possible, and if they fail to win tomorrow, the league would seem almost out of the question. Defensively, City have never looked the same since the injury to captain Vincent Kompany, so you would fancy a goal or two from Spurs striker Harry Kane.

But, on the other hand, no matter how many goals City concede, providing Sergio Aguero is on the pitch, anything is possible. The Argentinian has 14 league goals this season, and when called upon, he often does the job, and that is exactly what City will be hoping for on Sunday afternoon.

Looking at Tottenham, Mauricio Pochettino’s pressing method has worked wonders so far this season, but it has been suggested that the players could burn out after being worked too hard.

There is also the possibility that they rely too much on star man Harry Kane, or creative midfielder Christian Eriksen, so their season could hinge on the fitness of their top players.

But of course we cannot overlook the job that Tottenham’s back four have done, with centre backs Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen being solid all season, and full backs Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies doing their bit in both attack and defence, so it is no wonder that they have the league’s best defence so far.

So, a day of football that could define a crazy, exciting, entertaining season awaits – I wouldn’t place any bets if I were you.

Will Pep be a success at Manchester City?

Pep Guardiola lives for football. His mind rarely drifts from the beautiful game. He’s been told on many an occasion to focus his mind on something else, but the longest he can go without thinking about football is, according to Manel Estiarte, his personal assistant, 32 minutes. He may have the odd weakness that the Premier League is waiting to ruthlessly exploit, but their is no doubt that Pep Guardiola’s understanding of football is exceptional.

When announcing the incredible news that Pep would succeed him as City boss next season, current manager Manuel Pellegrini said, “The club aren’t doing anything behind me. I knew about this one month ago.” Pellegrini also said that it was the right time to make it public so that the rumours would end once and for all, and also because it was important that his availability was made known to other interested clubs.

Pellegrini, who is still in with a chance of winning all 4 available trophies to him, would be right to feel hard done by, but it’s hard to argue when a manager such as Pep Guardiola says he wants to coach in the Premier League. And he is not just any old manager.

Pep’s father, Valenti Guardiola, was a brick layer, so hard work was immediately instilled into a young Pep. His early days with Barcelona couldn’t have made for much of a better footballing education. Not only did he get to come through the ranks of Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy, but he also, alongside many great players, got to learn from one of football’s greatest ever players, Johan Cruyff.

Despite once being christened by Cruyff, “slower than my Granny’, the pair got on very well, with their coinciding outstanding knowledge of the game combining to great effect.

Cruyff used Pep’s intelligence in the holding midfield position of his ‘Dream Team’, which won four straight league titles from 1991 to 1994 along with the European Cup in 1992, and although Pep moved elsewhere towards the end of his career, the Catalan had still lived in Barcelona for the majority of his life, and that was a factor in the decision to come back to Barca in a coaching role, where he enjoyed a successful spell with the side’s B team before being given the role as first team manager for the 2008/09 season.

His endless analysis of opposition footage and hours of explanations to his players about how he wanted them to perform the perfect role in the team lead to a sensational first season as a manager, in which Barcelona won all three trophies, the Copa Del Rey, La Liga, and the Champions League.

Although people may suggest that it could have been done by any manager due to the players he had at his disposal, many people do not understand the tactical detail that Guardiola uses, and how difficult it is to then explain his visions and ideas to his players, but Pep did it.

He would spend hours on both the training ground and in his office planning a brilliantly well organised defence that allowed him to let his attacking players flourish. Pep does the work creating the system with the conducting holding midefielder (just like himself) and the overlapping full backs, and then, once his system has succeeded in getting the ball into dangerous areas, it is left up to the attacking players to score the goals, and with Lionel Messi and co in his team, it is no wonder Barca were so successful under him.

Guardiola is a perfectionist, and despite being criticized for this sometimes, he did an incredible job in winning 14 trophies in just 4 seasons Barca whilst still playing attractive attacking football, known throughout the world as ‘Tiki-Taka’.

But believe it or not, Pep himself sees ‘Tiki-Taka’ as a stupid meaningless phrase, saying that it suggested that his team would pass the ball for no reason, when, in fact, they would move the ball in order to move the opposition.

But whatever ‘Tiki-Taka’ is, and however Pep mastered his Barcelona side throughout his spell with the club, he clearly did it well. He had done what no other manager with Barcelona had done before, and he had guided the club to the most successful period in its history. But that took its toll though, so by the end he couldn’t handle the pressure of the job, and at the end of the 2011-12 season, Guardiola resigned as manager of Barcelona.

During his year out of the game, it was reported that Roman Abramovic may have approached him for the Chelsea job, and that he could begin planning the squad for the 2013/14 season already, but if that story was true, Guardiola clearly turned it down, and the following season he was appointed as manager of Bayern Munich.

He has done well so far, but has only enjoyed limited success as he is still yet to take Bayern to Champions League glory, and he has the remainder of this season left to fulfil that dream before he takes over at City.

So how will the Premier League treat him? Can he handle the media? Louis Van Gaal has been seen to crush under the press conference pressure on more than one occasion, of course. And then there’s the factor of the winter break, which Jurgen Klopp clearly wasn’t prepeared for, and finally, you could say that despite in Germany and Spain the league’s stronger teams are more strong, but in the Premier League the weaker teams are less weak, and English football is more balanced, so will Pep struggle to win so many games by 5, 6 or 7 goal margins now? What’s most important though, is will Pep guide City to glory?