Sunderland v Manchester City: Pellegrini facing defensive quandary
The reigning Premier League champions travel to the Stadium of Light on Wednesday on the back of a 3-0 win at Southampton on Sunday that saw them leapfrog the south coast club into second place, six points behind unbeaten leaders Chelsea after Jose Mourinho's men were held to a 0-0 draw at Sunderland.
However, victory at St Mary's proved to be a costly one for Manuel Pellegrini's side, with Elaquim Mangala sent off in the 74th minute and captain Vincent Kompany picking up a hamstring injury that is expected to keep him out of the trip to the north-east.
Martin Demichelis will fill one of the empty slots at the heart of the City defence but Pellegrini has a difficult decision as to who the Argentinian's partner at the back will be.
Matija Nastasic is out of favour, meaning Belgian Dedryck Boyata is likely to start alongside Demichelis, although Pellegrini has also identified right-back Bacary Sagna as an alternative at the heart of defence.
The timing of City's sudden crisis at the back is particularly poor given that Sunderland are coming off a confidence boosting showing against Chelsea and have beaten City 1-0 in each of the last four league meetings at the Stadium of Light.
City's last win on Wearside came back in 2008 and Sunderland winger Adam Johnson, who spent two-and-a-half seasons at the Etihad Stadium, is relishing the chance to try to extend their hoodoo over his former club before taking on Liverpool on Saturday.
"This week is exactly what you want to be involved in," Johnson told Sunderland's official website. "You have to play the top teams sometime so you might as well play them all together.
"Manchester City is going to be another tough game but we are up for the challenge just like we were last season, so maybe we can catch them off guard once again.
"However, you only have to look at the players they have in their squad to see it will be a difficult game.
"Of course I don't think I have anything to prove to anyone and I don't try harder against any opposition, but it's always nice to get one over against one of your former clubs."
Defender Sebastien Coates is reported to be a doubt for Sunderland, who will also be missing Billy Jones (hamstring), Emanuele Giaccherini (ankle) and Patrick van Aanholt (shoulder).
Away from their defensive issues City will again be without David Silva (knee), Aleksandar Kolarov and Edin Dzeko (both calf), with the onus sure to be on 17-goal top scorer Sergio Aguero to give City fans more to cheer at a ground that has provided nothing but misery in recent years.