In what was perhaps an expected defeat on Sunday, Sunderland remained rooted to the foot of the Premier League table after losing out to big-spending Manchester City.
While at times there were glimpses of promise, it looked for large parts as if there was a lack of belief and desire from the Black Cats. In previous years, its been about now the resurgence has started, but it looks a million miles away right now.
Here’s five things we learned after another defeat for David Moyes’ side:
Fine margins will count
It sounds straightforward enough to say, but they really will. The smallest of margins could be the difference between Sunderland staying in the Premier League or playing Championship football next season, and on Sunday these margins all fell in favour in Manchester City.
Were Jermain Defoe’s first half effort, which crashed against the post, an inch to the right, Sunderland could have found themselves ahead and buoyant. Similarly, had Fabio Borini arrived onto the rebound a fraction later he might have been able to turn it home.
These small details ultimately stopped Sunderland taking the lead on Sunday and deprived them of three points. These fine margins are hard to control but Sunderland need to do their best to make sure they’re in their favour going forward. They could be crucial.
Sunderland need leaders
When teams fall to a hard-fought defeat you can feel slightly sympathetic, but in Sunderland’s cause it’s hard to empathise. After falling behind to Pep Guardiola’s men Sunderland fell flat. There seemed to be no desire or drive to get back into the game. It were as if the Black Cats were actually three behind and resigned to defeat, when in reality they had a real chance to get back into the game.
What Sunderland need is leaders. Lee Cattermole’s absence has been felt this season and the aggressive midfielder would certainly have rallied his teammates and encouraged them to push forward. There seems to be nobody stepping forward in his place – the Black Cats lacked leaders on Sunday and, in what is a relatively inexperienced squad in parts, it’s perhaps no surprise.
Somebody needs to step forward. The Black Cats need not one leader if they want to stay up, but eleven.
Pickford will be key in any revival
It’s been said before and it will be said again, but Jordan Pickford is a huge part of this Sunderland side. Despite being one of the younger members of the side he carries enormous responsibility and the defeat to the Citizens could have been far more emphatic were it not for the stopper.
A welcome return to Moyes’ side at Everton last week, Pickford will be a key component of any possible survival bid. There was little he could do about Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane’s goals and he made a number of impressive stops to keep Guardiola’s side at bay.
With a strong goalkeeper, there’s a base for Sunderland to build on. Pickford can definitely keep them in games, but it’s down to the players at the other end of the pitch to take the initiative.
Set pieces need to improve
It’s been widely reported that Manchester City aren’t particularly great at defending set-pieces, but Sunderland failed to really test them from dead ball situations at the Stadium of Light.
With the aerial presence of Lamine Kone and John O’Shea, this is an area the Black Cats really need to make count. Some of Sunderland’s more impressive victories this season – such as the triumphs over Leicester City and Crystal Palace – were in part thanks to goals from corners. Now more need to follow.
With the return of Papy Djilobodji, Jan Kirchhoff and Jason Denayer, Moyes will have a sizeable number of players strong in the air, and with Seb Larsson’s set piece delivery there is definitely the potential for this to be a source of goals for Sunderland. With no goals in over a month now, could set pieces be the Black Cats’ best bet at finding the back of the net?
The first goal is crucial
Sunderland started fairly well against their impressive visitors but struggled to make their attacking forays count. Aguero’s neat finish then turned the tide firmly in City’s favour, but you do have to wonder whether it would have been a different story had the hosts netted first.
And this is a familiar tale, with Sunderland creating chances in plenty of games but failing to make them count and allowing the opposition into the game. After conceding, heads drop and it looks inevitable that the Black Cats will succumb to defeat.
It’s therefore imperative that they start scoring first. An opening goal would hopefully bring confidence with it and mean that Sunderland aren’t having to chase games any more.