Sunderland face yet another tough assignment in their battle for Premier League survival as they prepare to welcome Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City to the North East.
Fresh off the back of an emphatic win over Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup, City will be keen to put their inconsistent form of late behind them at the Stadium of Light.
But for Sunderland, points are a must. The Black Cats find themselves rooted to the foot of the table and need to start picking up points sooner rather than later.
Sunderland boss David Moyes says injured duo Jan Kirchhoff and Steven Pienaar won’t be risked, while loan defender Jason Denayer will also be unavailable against his parent club.
A positive, however, comes in the form of the return of centre back Papy Djilobodji who returns from suspension this weekend.
Also returning are Vito Mannone and Billy Jones, while Jack Rodwell will be assessed ahead of the game.
Manchester City also welcome back two key players with Alexander Kolarov and Vincent Kompany both ready to be called upon if required.
What should Sunderland expect?
For all Manchester City have been inconsistent and, at times, underwhelming this season, they have always been able to score goals.
Guardiola’s system puts a key emphasis on attack with his central midfielders pushing high to support the team’s attacking trio.
With the attacking talent of Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and David Silva, to name but a few, at his disposal it’s no surprise that the ex-Barcelona boss puts such an emphasis on attacking play.
Sunderland will likely come up against a buoyant side. The Citizens are unbeaten in their last eight in all competitions and have scored ten goals in their last two games. If Sunderland can’t get to grips with their attacking force early on, then they may well considerably add to that tally on Wearside.
Where can Sunderland exploit?
For all City are a force going forward, they are certainly vulnerable at the back.
While his return has been heralded as a positive for City, Kompany has looked shaky at times this season and, if selected, the pace of Jermain Defoe could well prove a handful for the Belgian international.
If Kompany has looked slightly shaky then Claudio Bravo is at a whole new level on the richter scale. The Chilean stopper has taken the brunt of criticism from City fans this season and may well drop out of the team this weekend after another error gifted Huddersfield a goal on Wednesday evening. If Guardiola elects to stick with the former Barcelona keeper, then Sunderland need to test him frequently. It’s been shown he has a mistake in him, and that kind of luck is just what the Black Cats need.
Key battle – Sergio Aguero v Lamine Kone
It probably says a lot that this season has been considered something of a disappointment for Aguero – even though he’s netted 11 goals for City this season. The Argentinian is the focal point of the attack and has the potential to seriously harm teams. Give him a sniff, and he’ll take it.
It’s therefore imperative that Sunderland, and Kone in particular, get a handle on the striker early on. The Ivorian has proven he can deal with some of the best strikers in the Premier League over the last year, and it will require another colossal performance from the centre back to keep Aguero et al at bay this weekend.
Last time they met – Manchester City 2-1 Sunderland
The two sides met on the opening day of the Premier League season in what was Pep Guardiola’s first game in charge of Manchester City.
It all looked to be getting off to an ideal start for the Spaniard as Aguero handed his side the lead from the penalty spot after only four minutes, but Jermain Defoe levelled for the Black Cats with just under twenty minutes remaining.
Just as Sunderland thought they had snatched an unlikely point, debutant Paddy McNair headed into his own net to hand the hosts victory.
On paper this game looks like a foregone conclusion. Manchester City should, in theory, have enough quality to overwhelm a Sunderland side down to the bare bones and in a poor view of form.
But, this is Sunderland we’re talking about. They have often pulled strange results out the bag in the past and could do with similar this weekend if they are to climb away from the foot of the table.
Prediction: Sunderland 1-1 Manchester City