Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Saturday 25th December 2015, 1500 GMT
Manchester City host Premier League strugglers Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, hoping to bounce back quickly from a damaging defeat to title rivals Arsenal FC earlier in the week
Manuel Pellegrini will be hoping to arrest Manchester City’s slide when his side take on Sam Allardyce’s Sunderland this weekend, given the Citizens are now languishing in third place, six points behind league leaders Leicester City, and four behind Arsenal FC.
City have been extremely unconvincing of late — even in victory — and the absence of captain Vincent Kompany has had an adverse effect on the team’s defensive organisation, and by extension, their ability to keep clean sheets. In good news for the Etihad faithful then, the Belgium international is expected to make his return on Saturday against the Black Cats, along with Argentine right-back Pablo Zabaleta.
Sunderland find themselves second from bottom on the Premier League ladder, and Allardyce will be hoping his side can improve significantly from the lacklustre display at Stamford Bridge last Saturday — particularly in the opening 20 minutes of the first half.
Team News and Tactics
Manuel Pellegrini will be able to welcome back captain Vincent Kompany, as well as right-back Pablo Zabaleta and midfielder Fernando, with Samir Nasri (hamstring) the only Manchester City player ruled out of the weekend’s meeting with Sunderland.
The Belgian has been missing since the 8th of November with a calf injury, and his absence has been keenly felt by the Citizens, who were unable to keep a single clean sheet with their skipper on the sidelines.
Raheem Sterling was left out of the starting line-up against Arsenal FC as Pellegrini opted for a more cautious approach at the Emirates, but the former Liverpool FC winger is likely to make a return to the side to play alongside David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne.
Chelsea FC were able to expose Sunderland’s soft centre to great effect at Stamford Bridge in the last round, and as such, Pellegrini will fancy his side’s chances at breaking down Allardyce’s team through the centre. However, City will have to be more clinical in front of goal and score as early in the game as possible to draw the Black Cats out of their own half.
Allardyce has masterminded some memorable away wins (and even draws) against the top sides in the Premier League, and Manchester City will have to be wary of the pace of Adam Johnson and Duncan Watmore on the break, as well as Defoe’s ability to create space and get shots on goal from seemingly innocuous positions in the final third.
Possible starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Otamendi, Kompany (C), Kolarov; Fernandinho, Tour ; De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling; AgA?ero
Sebastian Larsson remains a long-term absentee for the Black Cats, who will also be without centre-back Younes Kaboul, and former Manchester City midfielder Jack Rodwell, who is suspended for the game after picking up his fifth booking at Stamford Bridge last Saturday.
Jeremain Lens, who was not included in the match-day squad against Chelsea FC for disciplinary reasons, is expected to be involved in the Sunderland first team at the Etihad, and the Dutchman will compete for a spot in the starting line-up in midfield with Sweden’s Ola Toivonen.
Allardyce’s men have lost their last three Premier League games, and the experienced Englishman will be aiming to buck that trend against one of the best sides in the division. Although Sunderland have played with wing-backs in recent times and three central defenders, the absence of Kaboul might force a tactical reshuffle.
A 4-3-3 is likely with a combative midfield and pace on the flanks to try and capitalise when given the chance to counter-attack. Sunderland will likely be camped in their own half for much of the game, but if there is a manager who is able to set out his side to defend resolutely and grab a win on the break, it is Sam Allardyce.
Fabio Borini impressed after coming on against his former side Chelsea FC, and the Italian could get a start up front given his willingness to press tirelessly and harry centre-backs who are looking to step out and play the ball to team-mates in the attacking third of the pitch.
Possible starting line-up (4-3-3): Pantilimon; Jones, Coates, O’Shea (C), Van Aanholt; Toivonen, M’Vila, Johnson; Watmore, Defoe, Borini
- Manchester City have won four and lost four of their last 10 meetings with Sunderland in the Premier League
- Sunderland have won only two of their last 10 Boxing Day matches (D4 L4)
- Manchester City have failed to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League without captain Vincent Kompany
- Sunderland have lost their last three games in the Premier League, and have conceded the most goals in the competition this season
- Manchester City have won 15 of their 19 home games in 2015, losing only to Arsenal FC last season
Player to watch
The 21-year-old has been making headlines recently after managing to establish himself in Sam Allardyce’s starting line-up, and his performance against Chelsea FC at Stamford Bridge would have made several of the top clubs in the league sit up and take notice.
The England U21 international was outstanding against one of the best 1-vs-1 defenders in the league in C sar Azpilicueta — his pace, technique and ability to turn his marker evident in a superb display against the Spaniard. Watmore will be faced with a similarly daunting challenge at the Etihad, but could take advantage of Aleksandar Kolarov’s propensity to bomb forward to help in the attack, leaving space behind him which the Black Cats can exploit on the break.
The unassuming youngster, who has a first-class honours degree in economics and business management from the University of Newcastle, has a big future ahead of him if he can add consistency and end product to his game, and is the man to watch on Saturday.
Manchester City 3 – 0 Sunderland
Pellegrini’s men will know that they cannot afford too many more slip-ups, and will be intent on bouncing back from the defeat against Arsenal FC last Monday. The return of Kompany will be huge for the home side, who should have far too much in attack for the Sunderland defence. A comfortable Manchester City win is likely.
Blast from the past