Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and now Manchester City to be followed closely by Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. When you are not winning your home games there is little doubt trouble is on the horizon and our fixture list certainly doesn’t help our ever increasing relegation potential. Gus Poyet has a 100% home record in the two he has managed but other than past form there is little argument to suggest we can maintain this.
It is quite a remarkable record we have at home against City over recent years. Three 1-0s on the bounce, which could easily be four had our very own Adam Johnson not unleashed a stunning injury time equaliser in 2010. These games followed a very similar pattern too, with Sunderland defending doggedly for most of the 90 minutes and hitting second half winners. Surely the sweetest was Ji Dong-Won’s 93rd minute rounding of Joe Hart, a match which saw the masked Simon Mignolet rubber stamp his clout as a top Premier League ‘keeper…I miss him.
I could fondly reminisce about recent duals with City at the Stadium of Light for a fair few thousand words – but let’s be brutally honest, where is the inspiration for another special afternoon going to come from? In fact, such is the new lease of attacking freedom oozing from Manuel Pellegrini’s side, if we were to pull out a similar defensive display would it even be enough? Manchester City under Roberto Mancini were often one dimensional last season particularly but this side strike me as a much more difficult outfit to contain.
Pellegrini adopts a 4-2-2-2ish style of play which gives the illusion of being overly narrow. It is all quite precise and deliberate despite seeming to lack any conventional structure. Looking at the tactics board you scratch your head wondering how they don’t constantly run into each in the middle of the field but such is the quality they possess it’s all about creating angles and moving in tandem, forward and very quickly. It’s a set-up which is very difficult to man mark, like trying to man mark a swarm of bees so that is not really a viable approach. We will have to play fairly deep, plug the gaps and the midfield selection for both sides will be a huge bearing on our likelihood of getting something from this match. Thankfully, David Silva will not be playing.
For me, Jack Colback will be the key man in midfield for us tomorrow. It is very, very important that our midfield is hugely disciplined. I love the whole ‘get in their face’ approach but this has to be convicted with a little less lunging and over commitment. Of our midfielders, only Colback seems to possess the patience and brains to pull off a deeper midfield role against City. Unfortunately, bar him we have little else in terms of options which are suitable for this kind of match – so for the other two who are likely to be Ki Sung-Yeung and Craig Gardner, particularly for the latter, it could prove a very long afternoon indeed.
Is it time to throw Cabral in the mix? I really don’t know, possibly, but in the few minutes we have witnessed he has struck me as a fairly reckless tackler and I am not sure we can afford that.
The defence will probably be the same that played against Southampton and of course Steven Fletcher will lead the line. Hopefully, Emanuele Giaccherini will start once more and if Adam Johnson can show the kind of discipline he did in the second half against Hull City then he might not be as big a liability in defence as we think;
Mannone; Celustka, Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown; Colback, Ki, Gardner, Johnson, Giaccherini; Fletcher
The positive that I can scrape together for us is that, the Swansea game aside, Sunderland do seem a team very willing, perhaps even capable, of adopting Poyet’s footballing philosophy and with that should come some stability in our performances. A stability which might even be laced with a little quality and maybe – just maybe – see us out of this mess. For today’s game, however, we will struggle and it pains me to suspect a routine away win 0-3.
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