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Ed Chamberlin blogs on the Capital One Cup Final and his love for the Cheltenham Festival

Ed Chamberlin - Ed Chamberlin Posted 27th February 2014 view comments

The Capital One Cup Final takes centre stage this weekend. There will be wall-to-wall coverage on Sky Sports 1 throughout Sunday and it promises to be a great day.

Sky Bet have come to the party with a stack of markets on the game and on the outrights have Manchester City hot favourites to win the Cup inside 90 minutes at 3/10.

City are appearing in their fourth League Cup final and this is their sixth Wembley visit since 2011.

Sunderland and City: Meet at Wembley on Sunday

Sunderland and City: Meet at Wembley on Sunday

However, it's their first League Cup final for 38 years since a 2-1 win over Newcastle at Wembley in 1976. Eighteen-year-old Peter Barnes and Dennis Tueart scored for Tony Book's side.

City will be looking to make amends for the 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup final against Wigan last May. Wigan were 9/1 to win before kick-off but Ben Watson scored the winner in the second minute of added time. Sunderland are fractionally shorter at 17/2 to win on Sunday.

If Sunderland play like they did at Arsenal last weekend they will have no chance.

Ed Chamberlin
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They will be out to repeat Wigan's heroics and are appearing in their second League Cup final and this is their first visit to Wembley since 1998. Sunderland's only previous League Cup final was in 1985 when they lost 1-0 to Norwich.

They could be catching City at a good time this weekend, though, as Manuel Pellegrini's side have won just two of their last five games (D1 L2) and failed to score in three of those five.

However, if Sunderland play like they did at Arsenal last weekend they will have no chance.

Trouble

I'll be at Villa Park on Sunday on Sky Sports 3 for Aston Villa against Norwich.

Both sides are now on 28 points and both remain in trouble and still at the forefront of Sky Bet's market to go down. It's a big game for both sides.

Norwich's win on Super Sunday last weekend was crucial for their survival hopes and Chris Hughton's future, yet they are still only 11/4 to be relegated.

This weekend sees Paul Lambert up against his old club but mystery still surrounds their dismal home form. Villa have only won three times and gained 11 points at Villa Park all season. They've also only scored 12 League goals at home, which is the joint fewest with Norwich and Cardiff.

Worryingly, they have not scored scored in the last three Premier League matches and it's five hours and 26 minutes since their last goal - Bacuna's strike at Everton on February 1.

So it's Villa, who are struggling at home, against a Norwich side struggling away. They've lost their last three Premier League away games and conceded twice in all three. They have scored only eight goals in 13 away games (only Palace and Cardiff have scored fewer), and only only two in the last five. Under 2.5 goals is sure to be popular.

Something has to give on Sunday and the winners will take a big step towards safety.

Cheltenham Festival countdown

Just 12 days to go now until the Festival kicks off and I'll preview all the races in next week's column. However, I'm often asked, as someone who works in and is passionate about football, why I enjoy the Cheltenham Festival so much - and this week I will try to explain what is so special about the four days at Prestbury Park for me.

1. Finale: Cheltenham is the envy of many sports. It brings the National Hunt season to a climax in perfect fashion. Every good horse targets Cheltenham and produces a finale that the flat boys are desperate to replicate. Some would say that's to the detriment of other good races during the year but that's not the case as they are top prizes in their own right yet we have the added intrigue of the majority doubling up as trials for Cheltenham.

No other sport has such a brilliant crescendo. Cheltenham is a League title and Cup Final all rolled in to one.

The Festival is also the one race meeting that captures the imagination of sports fans, in a way Royal Ascot, Aintree etc. struggle to do. The Grand National certainly does but Cheltenham manages to do it over all four days. It's the only meeting that gets people in the Sky Sports office talking about racing. My hope is always that the meeting throws up good enough stories to get racing on to the back and even front pages of the newspapers.

2. Rivalries: Cheltenham is all about rivalries. The England v Ireland battle rages brighter than ever, as does the competition between the top yards. The Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle will set the tone for the week. Vautour v Irving is the perfect first skirmish between Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls with both desperate to get off the mark and off to a flyer.

3. Winners: The old adage is that it's exactly the same to back 9/4 winner at the Cheltenham Festival as it is a 9/4 winner at Plumpton on a Monday. Of course, financially it is exactly the same but they don't compare when it comes to satisfaction. In fact, not much compares to successfully solving a Festival puzzle and roaring a winner up the famous hill. Nothing beats that buzz when they race down the hill for the final time and Mark Johnson exclaims on commentary that your jockey "hasn't moved a muscle".

Betting at Cheltenham has changed dramatically over the years. When I was an odds compiler at Ladbrokes in the 1990s the three days were the most important of the year but it has spiralled massively since then. We only used to bet ante-post on the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle in those days, while now you can bet on the main races throughout the year. Back then I used to host one of the only Cheltenham Preview Nights at the Sports Cafe in London. How things have changed - for the better. The build-up is now magnificent.

Sky Bet will be going non-runner no bet on all the races in the next few days, which is yet another great innovation for the Festival and removes the complications of multiple entries. Don't go mad though unless you know you are beating the price and the betting will be fiercely competitive on the day.

My Festival will hinge on Jezki, Baily Green, Annie Power (in the World Hurdle), Kings Palace and Vukovar.

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