THOUGHT THE FIRST: Always On My Mind: It's been nearly 48 hours and I can hardly think of anything else. I have a theory how the most underappreciated superstar athlete of my lifetime-Yaya Toure-got that goal: he worked his ass off. Before this season, Yaya Toure was known for many things-playing every minute, a box-to-box midfielder extraordinaire, an exemplary athlete both on and off the field and a first-class leader absolutely devoted to Manchester City. He was not known as a free-kick specialist until this season. Well into the second-half of his career, already one of the better all-around players in the world, Yaya Toure clearly took stock of his game this past off-season and asked how he could improve himself and by extension his team. I literally wince at the effort he had to have put in-hundreds if not thousands of free kicks curled to the upper left or right side of the net. He put in that work because no one cares more about bringing glory to City than Yaya Toure. It is testament to the greatest midfielder who has ever put on a City shirt that while the goal in and of itself was delightfully shocking, no one was surprised by who delivered it.
THOUGHT THE SECOND: Pellegrini better than Mancini: We may never know the level of turmoil heading into last season's desultory FA Cup final but we do know this-there were players at that point last season who were not playing nearly as well as they are this season. Last season, Samir Nasri looked for all the world like a lost child on the pitch; this season, he's been spectacular and he enjoyed his most spectacular moment with the go-ahead goal that would lead us to a trophy. Last season, Aleksander Kolarov looked for all the world like he was going to be run out of town and he is currently our best left back and increasingly invaluable; he played a marvelous match against Sunderland and it's not the first time he's been marvelous this season. Last season, there were players who were thought to have next to no value-I'm looking at you, Javi Garcia-and I'm not sure how Pellegrini is getting the best out of such players but he's doing it. Garcia was crucial in the FA Cup win against Chelsea, he was fantastic at Bayern Munich and he's got a few more games added to his resume. I was a fan of Roberto Mancini but Pellegrini has it all over him when it comes to man-management.
THOUGHT THE THIRD: Tactical Notes: The tactical firm of the redoubtable E Lectric Kompany and Marc Kets (Secretary, Treasurer, Sergeant-at-arms and all-around good guy of the MCFC Hollywood Division) both were screaming at the television while making their usual incisive tactical comments. This is rapidly becoming my favorite feature of Five Thoughts so without further ado...
KETS : First half Sunderland got really physical with Toure and Fernandinho obviously deciding that beating these two would be the key to their success and sticking 11 men in their own half, hoping that we'd push up and leave ourselves exposed, which we did unfortunately. Once the goal went in we stopped playing so high up the pitch and put a bit of room between Fernandinho and Toure allowing us to expose their lack of creativity, and more importantly to keep Borini where he belongs - in our pockets.
Kompany was caught out with their goal, and some people might blame Dimechelis for not continuing his run but Vinnie really should have done what all 8 year olds are taught - don't be too fancy, just kick it out of you're in trouble. He tried an audacious flick over the top of Borini who had closed him down tremendously well and finished cooly past the big unit in goal.
We looked leggy and even though we were stretching Sunderland in the first half, our passing wasn't as crisp as it has been and our crosses did a wonderful job of finding their man, and to be fair they had 8 of them in there. David Silva wasn't as sharp as he normally is, at times taking the wind out of good moves by opting to cut back onto his favored left foot, but as well all know his right is merely for balancing at the best of times.
Second half we showed just that little bit more urgency and all it took, well I say that lightly, was Yaya to push on a bit which allowed him to finish off a move that was quickly going nowhere with a wonderful finish that the people in the stadium and all over the world will never forget. He's a casual looking player at the best of times, but that finish was out of the top drawer and he made it look effortless. This galvanized us to continue running at Bardlsey who despite his usual chest out kind of performance really wasn't able to do much against Kolarov who beat him time and time again. This time the ball came over and Nasri finished a brilliant move with a finish for the ages. Mannone - who has been in outstanding form this year - was rooted to the spot.
Mancini would have sent on two center backs at this point but Pelle sensing that Sunderland would have to open the game up sent on Navas to harass Alonso. What this did do however was leave a bit more space in the middle for the likes of Ki to exploit, which he managed to for a few nervy minutes until Pelle did something very smart and took off Silva and sent on the much-maligned but increasingly effective Javi Garcia on to clean up the danger in front of the back four and allow Fernandinho to play flatter alongside him nulifying Cattermole and Ki, and letting Toure play as the spare man. Say what you want about Javi but an equalizer was a possibility until Javi came on and then once the tide was stemmed through winning tackles, closing people down and preventing the ball from getting out wide quickly we could concentrate on beating them on the break, which we did beautifully and got a goal through Navas who has been a revelation for us.
At the end of the day we outplayed them all over the pitch. More shots, more passes, more tackles and, in the second half, more passion and desire. This is the win we needed; we needed to fight one out. It's all looking good for the rest of the year.
E Lectric Kompany: Sunderland 1 - City 3 League Cup Champions, a first European trophy for Pelle, a salve for last season's implosion in the FAC, and hopefully a springboard of confidence for the remainder of our season -- this Cup is worth FAR more to City than the silver with which it's made.
To me, this match came down to one thing: my MOTM Yaya Toure just resolving that we were NOT going to lose, that he was going to put the side on his ample shoulders and simply carry them to victory. Samwise Gamgee was a short, fat hobbit in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he carried Frodo to the top of Mount Doom to save the day when all looked lost. Well, Yaya is a tall, lean Cote d'Ivorian man whose feet I'm guessing are somewhat less hairy and have footy boots on them, but his courage and tenacity is the same. [I personally love the Tolkien allusions here!-Suffering Bruin]
Did you see Yaya calling for the ball on his goal? He never had anything else in his mind other than playing that EXACT shot. He was truly box-to-box this match, marshaling the center, pressing forward and distributing around and through Sunderland despite their MF sitting right on top of the back four. Despite being behind at half time, the usual pit in my stomach never materialized -- for some reason, I simply KNEW he'd play the hero. Just as I knew Middle Earth would be saved
Beyond that, Nasri and Kolarov both had excellent matches -- our two personae non grata from last season. Kolarov especially neutralized Adam Johnson defensively, and Nasri was effective once space opened for him, with a goal just about as good as Yaya's.
I'd be remiss without crediting Sunderland for creating and executing the proper game plan against us in the first half, and their fans for putting on a wonderful show. They slowed our tempo, they got the break they needed, and defended stoutly. Again, Yaya recognized that going through a defense like this probably wasn't going to work, so he went over them. And shortly thereafter, the resistance evaporated, though the Mackems certainly had their chances. He also started the break on the clinching 3rd goal. But in my mind (my overconfidence is showing), I really never had a doubt as to the outcome once Nasri netted.
As I noted during the match, I don't blame VK for their goal -- De Mich was beaten for pace again and VK had to cover for him. Borini got a smudge lucky with the bounce up of the ball but made no mistake with a fine finish. Our Achilles heel needs to be healed this summer (he says yet again). To be fair, De MIch made amends with some tough, fine clearances later. The whole side defended well in the last 20 minutes especially. Thankfully Martin Atkinson's nonchalance at calling physical fouls didn't bite us. Incidentally, both Sunderland's other best chances came on non-called offside plays.
Finally -- beyond the Cup, it was great to see our resilience when it looked like deja vu against another box-packing defense. And I was pleased to see Kun showing no ill effects of his lay-off. Pelle's probably never made a faster decision than the one to bring him off after the 2nd goal!! I've also decided Dzeko should play by himself for 60 minutes before a match, then start the actual match, because it often seems it takes him that long to get going. He made some fine plays in the last half hour; not so much prior to that.
A great match between two game sides, but our quality broke the Mackems down in the end. See? Right to script. Now -- to earn some real revenge against Wigan and head back to Wembley for the FAC semis. And to whichever rag troll poo-poos this trophy, ask them how many THEY'RE going to win this season.
THOUGHT THE FOURTH: The Next Step: Unfairly criticized for "never" winning in Europe, Pellegrini has his trophy, more room has to be made in the City case and I honestly cannot wait for what is next. This match was a huge notch in our belts; I don't like to think what would've happened had we lost and how many of us had that sinking feeling after Borini's goal? That's what makes Yaya's stunner and Nasri's sublime effort so important-beyond the win, beyond the trophy, it's yet another step forward by a team that clearly has their eyes on more prizes in the future.
THOUGHT THE FIFTH: Poll! You know what to do.