Sunderland begin a very tricky sequence of fixtures when they take on title-chasing Manchester City on Tuesday evening, with the visitors having won just once away in the league since September.
Despite coming back from another slow start, a point at home to fellow relegation battlers Bournemouth was not enough for Sunderland, especially ahead of this upcoming run which also sees them head to Liverpool and host Manchester United. Home matches are huge for any struggling side at this stage of the season and those are the type of matches they could really do with taking maximum points from in order to boost their survival chances.
But Patrick van Aanholt continues to make his presence felt in an attacking sense, making the vital contribution once again against the Cherries as a result of another one of his marauding runs from the left wing-back position, so Man City will surely have something in place to nullify him. Even so, any forays forward from the Dutchman here may just be few and far between as the Wearside club look to avoid suffering a third heavy defeat to their opponents this term.
Dominant first half displays have been the catalyst for two 4-1 Man City victories when the sides have met already, the first of them coming in the Capital One Cup towards the end of Dick Advocaat’s Sunderland reign and the second coming on Boxing Day at the Etihad Stadium. The hosts cannot afford to start slowly again here, particularly with Sergio Aguero in red hot form again. The Argentine looked something close to full match sharpness in his side’s last league match at West Ham United.
It was down to him that they managed to earn a point at Upton Park, sparing their blushes for some second rate defending which saw them concede a goal inside the first minute and then inexplicably switch off in the second half to allow Enner Valencia to score from a long throw-in. But the manner of City’s convincing win over Aston Villa in the FA Cup fourth round at the weekend was a lot more ominous, with Kalechi Iheanacho maintaining his claim for a regular starting place by netting a hat-trick.
On Monday came the news that this will be Manuel Pellegrini’s final season in charge of Man City as he will make way for the coveted Pep Guardiola in the summer. He will now be doubly determined to end his reign is style, beginning here.
There could be as many as three debuts for Sunderland as Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri and Dame N’Doye are in line to be given their first opportunities to impress.
Kevin de Bruyne, Vincent Kompany, Wilfried Bony, Eliaquim Mangala and Samir Nasri are still unavailable for a Man City side whose injury list has been added to by Fabian Delph, but Aleksandar Kolarov is back.