Premier League | Etihad Stadium | Wed 16 Apr | 7:45pm
The perfect pick-me-up for Anfield-rapped City...
Well that was a shock, wasn't it? Not the fact that Manchester City lost 3-2 to Liverpool in an emotionally charged fixture at Anfield, more the nature of their defeat. In a game that was billed as a pivotal moment in this season's title race, Manuel Pellegrini's side appeared overwhelmed for lengthy periods in the opening half, particularly in midfield where, bereft of the departing Yaya Toure to a groin injury, they were unable to maintain any semblance of control.
MAN CITY FORM
- Liverpool 3-2 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 4-1 So'ton (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-1 Man City (Prem)
- Man Utd 0-3 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 5-0 Fulham (Prem)
- S'land 0-1 Everton (Prem)
- Spurs 5-1 S'land (Prem)
- S'land 1-2 West Ham (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-1 S'land (Prem)
- Norwich 2-0 S'land (Prem)
Having later clawed their way back into the game, not-quite-fit skipper Vincent Kompany then gifted Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho with his match-winning moment - a clearance that, on any other day, would have made it into Row Z. It was a careless blunder, but the subplot made for interesting viewing: had City's injury problems finally caught up with them during a chockablock run of fixtures? It's a question for Jose Mourinho to publicly ruminate in the coming days.
The momentum is certainly against them, temporarily at least. Though any side losing players of the calibre of Toure, while suffering issues with Kompany (who was playing through a knee problem) and Sergio Aguero (only just returning from injury) would probably struggle against a buzzy Liverpool. Given all of this, there's no better time to face a Sunderland team that, for all intents and purposes, look dead and buried.
Gus Poyet's men are as bad as it gets right now. Having shipped five against a porous Spurs side last week, they then gave away a decisive own goal in the 1-0 home defeat to Everton. The damning stat here is that they have fired as many bullets to the foot (six) as they've won matches. Their manager must be pulling his hair out. Self-destruction is a frustrating trait, particularly when the stakes are as high as Premier League survival.
This then, could very much be a case of boys versus men. And unless Sunderland pull off something miraculous, or City do something very stupid, the points are going only one way here…
Toure limped off in the opening half against Liverpool with a groin injury and could be out for up to two weeks, while Kompany looked to be struggling with a knee complaint. The good news is that Aguero is now approaching full fitness. For Sunderland, Steven Fletcher is reportedly out for the season with an ankle injury.
Player to watch: James Milner (Man City)
Having been introduced into the fray against Liverpool in the second half, Milner delivered intensity and poise to a team struggling to find a foothold in the game. Balancing nicely with David Silva from the right-hand side, Milner's work-rate should have done enough to merit a starting place here.
His was an impressive cameo. Not long after arriving, he set up Silva to reduce the deficit to 2-1; on 62 minutes, some neat work between Milner and Silva resulted in an equaliser that ricocheted in off Glen Johnson. If the midfielder is at his industrious best, he will be key in overrunning a Sunderland team rocking on their heels.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- City 3-1 S'land (LC, Mar 14)
- 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)
Poyet is a man bemoaning his luck at present: "If you need to show somebody somewhere in the world where they don't watch Sunderland every week, you show him this game and tell him this is the story of the season and that's it. Something always happens and that something is always, or most of the time, against us… it hurts, it hurts because it doesn't matter what we do, something happens." This is a manager whose fighting spirit has clearly drained away.
For Pellegrini, meanwhile, this fixture presents the perfect chance to reboot his team's title charge.
Against Liverpool, City seemed fazed by the emotion and occasion of an Anfield crowd inspired by their bleakest of anniversaries. A home game against Sunderland will deliver a different mood, plus a chance to boost their confidence and goal difference.
Interestingly, unlike his title rivals - Brendan Rodgers and Mourinho - Pellegrini has yet to dismiss City's ambitions publicly; there are no 'Little Horses' here. The subtext that he doesn't want to play with smokescreens is admirable, though only several convincing results between now and the season's end will prove this tact as a psychological masterstroke. Or a costly error.
Facts and figures
- City have won just 2 of the last 8 Premier League meetings with Sunderland (W2 D2 L4), with all 4 of Sunderland's victories being 1-0 wins.
- Sunderland have lost 4 successive Premier League away games, conceding 13 goals in total during this run.
- James Milner has scored 5 goals against Sunderland in the Premier League; more than against any other Premier League opponent. This includes his first-ever goal in the competition.
- Man City last suffered back-to-back Premier League defeats in October 2010.
- Since playing City in the League Cup final, Sunderland have scored just 3 goals in 6 Premier League games.
- Sunderland (15) have scored more away goals than they have at home this season (14).
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City to get their title chase back into gear with a convincing win. 3-0.