After what could have been a humiliation at the hands of Borussia Dortmund and the impending international break that will once again disrupt the season, this encounter with Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium takes on extra significance. A win is imperative in order to restore some confidence to the team, no doubt feeling a touch battered and bruised following the midweek battle with the German champions.
Results this season haven’t been a particular concern for the Blues but the performances, largely insipid and lacking in tempo, have most definitely. Problems with various formations, rotation of players and other reasons have been put forward to explain the sluggish opening to the campaign, but this home fixture against the Black Cats offers an immediate opportunity to display the fighting spirit and sustained quality that was sadly lacking in midweek.
Sunderland were the only side not to be lose away to City last season, drawing 3-3 with the Blues after having lead 3-1 with just minutes to go. However, before that result, the Black Cats had been defeated on their previous seven visits to Manchester to face City. Their form this season has been consistent, if not exciting, drawing four and winning one.
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With regards to team selection, Roberto Mancini will want to freshen matters up after the Blues were given the runaround on Wednesday. In defence, Maicon could return after injury to offer greater attacking guile down the right, whilst Aleks Kolarov is vying, as always, with Gael Clichy for a place on the left. Joleon Lescott will hope to come in to the side, but Matija Nastasic has done OK since arriving and will feel confident of retaining his place.
Javi Garcia, who has severely struggled to adapt to the pace of the game since joining in the summer, is sidelined with a hamstring injury sustained against Borussia Dortmund so Gareth Barry will return, adding some much-needed solidity and protection in front of the defence. James Milner, Scott Sinclair, Carlos Tévez and Mario Balotelli will all hope to feature.
Here is the side Mancini could select:
Sunderland will be hoping that Adam Johnson, signed from City over the summer, can produce a performance which suggests Mancini was wrong to allow him to leave, but if the winger’s career with the Blues was anything to go by, he won’t be a constant threat. It will be fascinating to see whether Johnson has improved his attitude and workrate since joining the Black Cats and whether he can have any meaningful impact, rather than a bright opening five minutes. The obvious threat in front of goal is Steven Fletcher, the striker having scored all of Sunderland’s goals this season, but they are hindered by the absence of the suspended Lee Cattermole.
Referee: Lee Probert – He only officiated one City game in the Premier League last season, the comfortable away victory at Molineux.
Prediction: MAN CITY 2 – 1 Sunderland – It may be tight and tense early on, but hopefully City’s extra quality will shine. Goals to be scored by Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tévez and Steven Fletcher.