Premier League | Etihad Stadium | Wed 12 Feb | 7:45pm
A dress rehearsal for the League Cup final, another potential banana skin for Manchester City, and other clichés besides.
Can we say bogey team yet? Four seasons in a row, Sunderland have beaten Manchester City 1-0 at the Stadium of Light, each scorer more unlikely than the last: Darren Bent, Ji Dong-Won, Adam Johnson, Phil Bardsley. What next: Lee Cattermole to seal the win with his first ever goal for Sunderland?
MAN CITY FORM
- Norwich 0-0 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 0-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Spurs 1-5 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 4-2 Watford (FAC)
- West Ham 0-3 Man City (LC)
- S'land 0-2 Hull (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-3 S'land (Prem)
- Sunderland 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- S'land 1-0 Kidderminster (FAC)
- Man Utd 2-1p S'land (LC)
And yet, four seasons in a row, City have put at least three goals past the Black Cats at the Etihad, or whatever it was called at the time of each occasion. So being at home, this should be an easy win for the title-chasers (that’s, uh, not Sunderland). Right? Not necessarily. City’s performance against Norwich last weekend was an odd one given their previous ruthlessness this season: they didn’t look complacent as such, but certainly weren’t at the races, recording just two shots on target – the same as their lowly opponents managed.
Meanwhile Sunderland, who looked so lost and helpless a few months ago, have won six of their last nine matches in all competitions and seem to fear nobody. These two teams will meet at Wembley in less than three weeks, in their first cup meeting for 30 years. But this is no mere dress rehearsal, despite what we wrote just a few paragraphs ago. An inconsistent City need a win to keep up their title challenge, while Sunderland will fancy their chances of an upset.
It’s all terribly exciting.
City are missing – and we mean really missing – Fernandinho, out for another week with a thigh injury. Sergio Aguero is another key absentee, his hampered hamstring keeping him out for another three weeks, and Javi Garcia is still an injury doubt. Samir Nasri is nearing a return after a month with his feet up, working his way through Game Of Thrones. Probably the TV show, rather than the books.
Sunderland’s Wes Brown is suspended for yet another red card. Seriously, we’re worried something in him has snapped (that isn’t a tendon). Carlos Cuellar’s hip is playing up, keeper Keiren Westwood has a shoulder problem – namely, that it isn’t working – and Steven Fletcher is a continued absence. Gus Poyet is deciding whether to allow the Scot to have surgery now, or pickle his Achilles until the summer and put him under the knife then. Connor Wickham has been kept from going out on loan, though, so... there’s that.
Player to watch: Stevan Jovetic (Man City)
As tempting as it is to focus on Adam Johnson’s latest attempt to terrorise his old team, this match will feature more attacking from Man City than Sunderland. The Citizens (seriously, does anybody call them this?) are looking slightly toothless without the crocked Aguero, and although Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo have goals in them, they’ve not let them out as of late.
So it’s time for Jovetic to come to the fore. The cherubic Montenegrin made an unhappy return to the starting XI in last weekend’s goalless draw against Norwich, finding it hard to breach the Canaries’ stout, staunch, stiff defence, but undoubtedly has the talent to put Sunderland’s defence to the sword. Fans of the Citizens (nope, still weird) will hope he puts in a performance similar to the one he made in Fiorentina’s 4-1 Serie A defeat of Inter Milan last season. Jovetic was ruthlessly clinical, or perhaps clinically ruthless, as he hit all 4 of his shots on target and scored with 2. He also created 5 chances, nabbed an assist, picked up the ball right across the opposition half and won 5 handy free-kicks before departing with 20 minutes to go, job very much done.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- S'land 1-0 City (Prem, Nov 13)
- S'land 1-0 City (Prem, Dec 12)
- City 3-0 S'land (Prem, Oct 12)
- City 3-3 S'land (Prem, Mar 12)
- S'land 1-0 City (Prem, Jan 12)
Two of the Premier League’s new influx of South American managers meet again, after Poyet’s men sucker-punched Manuel Pellegrini’s City on Wearside in November. The visitors had 63 per cent of possession, put in 50 crosses (sounds familiar...) and had 24 shots to Sunderland’s four, but, as they say, the only stat that matters is the one on the right. Pellegrini has installed Arsenal as title favourites, as each championship-chasing manager pretends their own team is crap in the name of pitiful mind games. In light of Sunderland’s defeat to Hull, Poyet has told his players to “erase the afternoon from our memory”, which could prove awkward when their wives ask how their day went.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Man City have failed to score in their last 2 games – they’ve not failed to score in 3 consecutive games since 2007/08.
- Man City have won 21 of their last 22 home games against bottom-half teams including 16 wins to nil, and they’ve led 1-0 at half-time in 9 of the last 17 of these games.
- Man City have failed to score in 4 of the 5 matches Fernandinho has not started this season.
- Sunderland are unbeaten in their last 6 away matches – only Man City have a longer current unbeaten away streak.
- None of Sunderland’s last 8 trips to top-half teams have had more than 3 goals.
Best Bet: Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.90
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Ooh, tough one. Sunderland to make things difficult – barring another very early red card – but City to ultimately show their class in a hard-fought 2-0 win.