An inability to keep clean sheets is the main talking point surrounding Manchester City, as they prepare to face the team that did them the most damage en-route to becoming champions last season.
Martin O’Neill’s ‘Black Cats’ come to Fortress Etihad ready to pounce on any opportunity to compound the discomfort of City’s back line and go one better than the point they snared in a spectacular 3-3 draw in March.
Sunderland’s four point haul was the most garnered by any of City’s Premier League opposition, courtesy of that draw and a controversial 1-0 win at the Stadium of Light, achieved via a blatantly offside goal in added time.
The irony is that if City triumph in the Saturday lunchtime kick-off, they will be recording better overall results – if not performances – than in the corresponding matches in the 2011/12 campaign.
Set against this fact, one wonders why all the fuss about Roberto Mancini’s men being in dire defensive straits?
The puzzler seems to be why fix a defence that wasn’t broken in the first place? Under Mancini, City have had the best defensive record in the Premier League for the past two years.
Joleon Lescott seems to have been singled out as the fall guy, being omitted on occasions, to enable 19-year old Matija Nastasic to partner skipper Vincent Kompany.
It’s all the more bizarre because Lescott’s performances were one of the few highlights in England’s otherwise drab Euro 2012 campaign in the summer. Having Lescott on the bench doesn’t appear to have helped Kompany whose own form has dipped below its usual imperious best.
Mancini has always rotated his full/wing backs, but the enforced loss of Micah Richards since injury at the Olympics hasn’t helped.The consensus is that the Italian should go with a settled selection as soon as possible to enable new or existing understandings to be forged or enhanced. City have been blessed in that amid the defensive conundrum, keeper Joe Hart has been in stupendous form – never more so than against Borussia Dortmund last time out.
Whoever populates the Sky Blue defensive ranks will need to be able to combat the threat of Sunderland’s free-scoring feline force, Stephen Fletcher, the Wolf-turned-Black Cat, following his £12m switch from Molineux.
There’s also the attacking qualities of a certain Adam Johnson to contend with – the England winger making a swift return to his former employers where he often felt so under utilised
Whereas City are crying out for defensive stability, Mancini’s attacking options remain fluid, and Carlos Tevez will surely be recalled having made way for Edin Dzeko in midweek. Mario Balotelli was ice cool when slotting home the last minute Champions League penalty on Wednesday night, but can any City side be improved by leaving out Sergio Aguero – it’s doubtful in the extreme.
After the intensity of the Dortmund clash, aligned to encouraging signs from the Fulham victory, this could be a City side ready to let rip…and Sunderland could be in the cross hares.
A confidence-boosting, goal-bagging glut would be a perfect send off into the international break and edge the Blues nearer to the pinnacle of the Premier League.
Oh, and lest we forget, a sumptuous crisp clean sheet would be most welcome, enabling Roberto to sleep more comfortably and avoid another trip to the launderette.