Manchester City’s shining renaissance of recent years has been bedevilled by one constant source of darkness emanating from the Stadium of Light.
Despite a meteoric restoration to the elite ranks of English football, comprising a trio of top three finishes – including a Premier League title – City persist in being dim when it comes to their stand-out bogey fixture – Sunderland away.
Roberto Mancini fashioned City into FA Cup winners and champions, but for some inexplicable reason and, having outplayed the Mackems on all three occasions, contrived to lose 1-0 each time.
A controversial last minute penalty, an even more hotly-contested blatantly offside last second winner, and finally the softest goal ex-City winger, Adam Johnson will ever score, have meant the home team have stolen the laurels each time.
Well, enough is enough. City’s supporters are both wary and weary of the Wearsiders’ warped ways when it comes to depriving the sky blues of well deserved wins.
It stops and it stops today!
As much as City have assumed total dominance over Sunderland’s North East foe, Newcastle United, the Black Cats have used up a third of their nine lives in always clawing victory by a whisker from their Manchester prey.
It seems bizarre that such a decidedly ‘Northern’ clash will be conducted under the keen orchestration of two managers of Southern origins…well South American to be precise.
Sunderland’s version of Harry Houdini-elect – Uruguayan Gus Poyet – goes up against his more measured Chilean counterpart, Manuel Pellegrini, in a tale of contrasting PL placings. Paradoxically both subscribe to similar playing philosophies.
Both prefer to play an attractive, expansive and attacking brand of the game so today’s clash should prove easy on the eye for neutral viewers.
Move away from the middle ground and you have two teams desperate for a win and three precious points.
Poyet knows he must stoke up positive momentum to pull Sunderland clear of the relegation zone.
The euphoria of a derby win over The Toon evaporated in a shameful and ill-disciplined defeat at Hull City.
Two red cards –one to Lee Cattermole, a man whose CV must read ‘Onfield Thug’ as opposed to professional footballer, will theoretically have weakened the home side’s usual stoical resistance.
City meanwhile need to keep in touch with the sharp shooting Gunners from North London.
A far more profound influence on proceedings could be the loss of David Silva from City’s ranks. The Gran Canarian Wizard, possessor of the left foot wand, has succumbed to a calf injury that will sideline him for up to a month.
His loss is a bitter blow. The Spanish midfield maestro has been in superlative form – the catalyst for much of the goal scoring mayhem City have unleashed in a season of goal-scoring mayhem.
The creative focus will switch even more firmly onto Samir Nasri, an undoubted world class talent who, under Pellegrini’s tutelage, has rediscovered his ability and hunger to succeed.
Apart from a horrendous last minute reversal at Chelsea, City have been a model of consistent success with six wins out of seven, despite severe disruptions in defence.
Injuries could see a much changed City line up with doubts still lingering over Fernandinho and Matija Nastasic. Costel Pantilimon is likely to continue in goal after appearing in three wins in three different competitions in the space of a week.
James Milner and Joleon Lescott are on standby if more changes are required.
It’s ironic that injuries have once again forced changes to the team after Pellegrini produced his first unchanged side for two consecutive games in City’s 7-0 and 5-2 triumphs over Norwich and CSKA Moscow.
Joe Hart’s inevitable omission today comes amid speculation linking City with a move for Barcelona’s Victor Valdes and Joe leaving City in the summer. Valdes would be welcome competition for Hart, but it would be bad news were it to signal the departure of England’s number one keeper from the Etihad.
One would hope Pellegrini is seeking, quite rightly, to provide, high quality competition for places in all positions, including the key role of keeper.
Other transfer talk alludes to Dzeko and Lescott departing for Dortmund and Stoke and, somewhat amazingly, City going back in for Isco, who snubbed Pellegrini, his ex-Malaga boss, in favour of Real Madrid in the summer.
The Spanish prodigy would be a welcome recruit to City, albeit his father should not expect a €10m sweetener from City, having already had something akin to that as a part of his son’s move to the Bernabeu.
Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo’s recent form is enough to strike fear into any PL defence and hopefully, Sunderland, with a defence stacked out with ex-Manure Swampdwellers, Bardsley, O’Shea and Brown will be producing bricks without a cement mixer.
On paper City should overwhelm Sunderland and edge into the top three or four positions. Similar sentiments have been expressed in the lead up to each of the three proceeding encounters and City have emerged pointless.
The same outcome today would be utterly and totally unacceptable. There can be no excuses, no flukes, no dodgy refereeing decisions that can be waved in City’s defence of another outrageous away loss.
One statistic speaks volumes going into this match – City have scored 28 PL goals, Sunderland have mustered 24 shots on target, of which only seven have gone in.
There are lies, damned lies and statistics but there can be no repeat of the shocks of Cardiff and Villa.
City have what it takes to get the job done. They just need to do it.
By David Walker
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