After more disappointment on their travels, Manchester City will look to get themselves back on track with victory at home to Sunderland, who are now five points adrift of safety following three straight defeats.
The hosts have not won on the road in the league since a stoppage time goal gave them the honours at Crystal Palace back in mid-September, and Yaya Toure’s sublime finish at Arsenal on Monday was just their second away goal since then. By and large, results have been a whole lot better at the Etihad Stadium, but their lack of consistency is such that they are now six points behind surprise leaders Leicester City, so they need to put a run together quickly in order to live up to their status as title favourites.
There was very little in the game at Arsenal until they fell behind to a wonderful strike, but conceding a very avoidable goal just seconds before half-time proved to be their ultimate downfall. Eliaquim Mangala’s woeful pass was ruthlessly punished, another incident which only served to emphasise the loss of captain Vincent Kompany to injury. For such an expensively assembled side and all the quality they have, they have simply not been good enough in recent weeks.
Sunderland badly need the points for very different reasons. Whether or not Chelsea raised their game in the aftermath of manager Jose Mourinho’s sacking, the performance from Sam Allardyce’s team as they lost 3-1 in West London last weekend was way below-par and befitting of a team with just 12 points to their name as the halfway point of the season approaches. They need to find some resilience from somewhere here as they come up against City’s famed front four.
In both of the last two matches, Allardyce has been forced into early tactical changes, so he will be keen to get it right from the start in this one, where the role of holding midfielder Yann M’Vila could be crucial in protecting the three central defenders. As they aim to frustrate, the Black Cats may give their wing-backs less licence to go forward and maybe even adopt a flat back five, while going forward they will hope that Fabio Borini can kick on after finally opening his scoring account for this term.
Kompany is finally back in contention for City, as are midfielder Fernando and right-back Pablo Zabaleta.
Younes Kaboul begins a lengthy spell on the sidelines for the visitors, who are also without defender Adam Matthews and the suspended Jack Rodwell.
Last Meeting: Man City recovered themselves to beat Sunderland on New Year’s Day after letting a two-goal lead slip. All the goals came in a frantic 16-minute period in the second half, with a superb strike from Yaya Toure and a Stevan Jovetic tap-in putting the home side in a seemingly unassailable position. But former City men Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson brought it back to 2-2, only for Frank Lampard to head the winner.
Played for both – Nedum Onuoha: The powerful defender began his career at Man City and became part of the first-team in 2004, going on to make 95 league appearances and score three goals. Having failed to nail down a place in the side, he went on loan to Sunderland for the 2010-11 season, helping them to a top half finish and scoring his only goal with a great solo effort in a famous 3-0 victory at Chelsea.