The game of football was the winner when Manchester City finally overcame Sunderland’s stoical resistance to win the League Cup at Wembley just 45 days ago.
The Mackems, having dumped Chelsea and Manchester United out en-route to the Capital One showpiece in the capital city, produced a battling display that warmed the hearts of the invading red and white-striped hordes, who outnumbered their sky blue counterparts.
Gus Poyet’s side lost 3-1 on the day but the amazing after-match camaraderie between the two sets of fans – Sunderland supporters applauding City and City reciprocating – was an unusual but very welcome occurrence.
Hope and belief swelled the ranks of all departing down Wembley Way on the day. City had captured the first instalment of what was always going to be a highly unlikely, media-hyped quadruple, whereas Sunderland had shown they could mix it with the best…relegation would almost certainly be avoided.
Having been denied the pleasure of each other’s company because of the stormy weather that lashed the North West of England on February 12, the clouds have since gathered on the horizons of both clubs.
Wigan and Barcelona put paid to City’s other ‘cup’ ambitions and Manuel Pellegrini’s men no longer control their own Premier League destiny.
Sunderland have harvested a single PL point in their last eight matches, are rooted to the foot of the table and are reliant on others to avoid dropping back into The Championship.
A not-so magnificent seven point disparity haunts both sides. After Sunday’s controversial, Clattenburg-induced defeat at Liverpool, City will still find themselves at least a point shy of title honours if the Scousers win all four of their remaining fixtures.
Similarly, Sunderland would still be a point behind fourth-from-bottom Norwich, if the Wearsiders can conjure up two wins from their games-in-hand.
It doesn’t make happy reading for either of the team’s South American managers. Defeat tonight game will signal the end of City’s title push or Sunderland’s survival bid. A draw would be as useful as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition to both clubs.
Following the events at the emotional cauldron of Anfield, City will be hoping for a fully fit Vincent Kompany, and not the 70% on show as Captain Fantastic had an injury influenced nightmare.
The Belgian Boulder struggled in a rocky performance and was a culpable factor in all of Liverpool’s goals. By a strange paradox, the much maligned Martin Demichelis performed well against Pool’s untouchable (because he wasn’t touched) diving, cheating Uruguayan rodent.
Luis Suarez has been ‘linked’ with a bank-busting £70m switch to City this summer. The rumour could be without foundation. Nonetheless and notwithstanding his on-field brilliance, surely City fans don’t want this repugnant creature representing their club? Hopefully the only sky blue he will ever wear is for his country.
Injuries will weigh heavy in Pellegrini’s team selection. Yaya Toure has already been ruled out for at least a fortnight after limping out of the Anfield fray after 18 minutes. I am led to believe both David Silva and Jesus Navas will also be absent from the starting XI tonight, but could figure on the bench.
Sergio Aguero is available after his substitute appearance in the Merseyside injustice. His form and goals are crucial factors if City are to start bridging the points chasm on the ‘champions-elect’.
By the way, has the date yet been set for the coronation of Queen Brenda I ?
The changes forced upon Pellegrini should see the excellent James Milner start, along with Aleksander Kolarov in for Gael Clichy, Javi Garcia for Yaya – allowing Fernandinho to play further up field – and Alvaro Negredo and Aguero restored to a two-man attack.
Expect a bench of Jovetic, Dzeko, Lescott, Silva, Rodwell, Clichy or Navas and Pantilimon.
Sunderland will be hindered by the ongoing loss of Stephen Fletcher and the suspended ex-Manure full back Phil Bardsley.
Read But Never Red coined the #TrustOurMP line before the season kicked off and the ‘MP’ element now has multiple applications because City need Maximum Points and a Liverpool stutter to turn Mission Possible into Mission Probable.
Despite the new found affinity between the sets of fans, a Sunderland relegation could be a blessing for City in the future. Four successive 1-0 away defeats at the Stadium of Light has made for much pain and suffering, especially when City have dominated possession on each occasion.
The Sunderland ‘bogey’ is compounded by two draws at the Etihad in the last four encounters, most notably that remarkable 3-3 thriller on City’s 2012 run-in to becoming champions.
With Easter Sunday just five days away, Manchester City must resurrect this season’s title hopes and, as was the case two years ago, goal difference could yet be crucial.
City hold a +3 goal advantage over Liverpool at present, a figure bound to increase if they can win their games in hand over Sunderland and Aston Villa.
The media’s Liverpool ‘love-in’ continues apace, so it is down to City to let their actions do the talking – unlike ex-City ‘favourite’ and Sky pundit, Niall Quinn.
The likeable Irishmen – Martin Tyler’s sidekick in that never to be forgotten commentary as ‘Aguerrrrooooooo’ scored the title deciding winner against QPR – has since dropped like a stone in any popularity competition where City fans are involved.
His affiliations to Sunderland as a player, manager and chairman are well documented and it’s understandable he retains more affection for them than City – not a problem.
However, Quinn becomes more and more of a condescending irritant with each City match he covers. He displayed staggering hypocrisy in criticising Edin Dzeko who, when clearly fouled by Liverpool’s Sakho in the penalty box, tried to stay on his feet.
When, a split second later, Dzeko eventually toppled over as a result of the contact, Quinn claimed the moment had passed and City could have no expectation of a spot kick.
Quinn is laughably drafted in on certain City games due to his former ties with the club, to give some sort of ‘sky blue spin’. The man from the Emerald Isle must be colour blind e.g. blue = red.
Clearly the man is no friend to Manchester City and, although City can extend the hand of friendship to the visiting fans this evening it can only go so far.
Pellegrini and his team need an iron fist in that velvet glove and nothing less than a City win will suffice.
TRUST OUR MP – MAXIMUM POINTS!
By David Walker
FOOTNOTE: Well done to the City fans who released 96 red balloons bearing the names of the Hillsborough victims at 15.07 at the Etihad Stadium yesterday. A beautiful gesture as befitting our great club and wonderful supporters…in fact BLOODY WELL DONE!