Preview: Two Of The Elite Clash As Unbeaten City Face Sunderland

Julian Finney - Getty Images

Well it's true is it not? There's only three unbeaten teams this term and we're one of them. However, so are this weekend's opponents Manchester City. In what promises to be a tough game, we bring you all the team news, the form, the ref in profile and our predictions. Join us!

Sunderland Team News

Martin O'Neill was able to confirm that a trio of defensive players were on the comeback trail this week; Carlos Cuellar and Wes Brown had resumed training - with the former closer to a return to action - whilst Phil Bardsley featured in a behind-closed-doors friendly on Thursday.

It remains unlikely that Cuellar will be thrown straight back in, given that Titus Bramble deputised ably, and Bardsley seems set to follow David Vaughan's rehabilitation programme - the next step being further game time in Monday's Under 21 game with Stoke.

Further forward, Adam Johnson got more minutes under his belt against Wigan and should look sharper as a result. He returns to his former club for the first time this weekend.

Manchester City Team News

The champions are expected to freshen things up after Wednesday's draw against Borussia Dortmund after Roberto Mancini bemoaned the quick turnaround.

Despite Matija Nastasic's encouraging start at Eastlands, Joleon Lescott could be in line for a recall, as could Gareth Barry and midweek goal scorer Mario Balotelli. However, the game will come too soon for Micah Richards as he continues his comeback from injury.

Predicted Lineups

Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, Bramble, O'Shea, Rose; Johnson, Larsson, Colback, McClean; Sessegnon, Fletcher

Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Barry, Yaya Toure; Silva, Aguero, Nasri; Balotelli

Key Matchup: Yaya Toure Vs Seb Larsson

It borders on cliché, but those that can control the midfield have a huge advantage in winning the game. Thus, without Lee Cattermole, Sunderland will need to start just as quickly as they did the last time they visited the Etihad Stadium.

The merit of Seb Larsson as a central midfielder has been roundly questioned since his move inside, but his first goal in the fixture last season came from an advanced central position. Whilst he will be tasked with providing ‘legs' in an area that City look to populate with quick touches and interchangeable players, it will be just important to get the Swedish international on the ball.

Recent Form: LDLWD

Loss: Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester City (Marcelo 76, Benzema 87, Ronaldo 90; Dzeko 69, Kolarov 85)

Draw: Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal (Lescott 40; Koscielny 82)

Loss: Manchester City 2-4 Aston Villa AET (Balotelli 27, Kolarov 64; Barry (OG) 59, Agbonlahor 70,
113, N'Zogbia 96)

Win: Fulham 1-2 Manchester City (Petric (pen) 10; Aguero 43, Dzeko 87)

Draw: Manchester City 1-1 Borussia Dortmund (Balotelli (pen) 90; Reus 62)

Last Time Around: Manchester City 3-3 Sunderland, 31/3/12

City salvaged a draw from being 3-1 down in the final 10 minutes to keep their titles hopes alive. After Larsson's opener, Sunderland were incensed to concede a penalty just before half-time which Balotelli converted. Yet Sunderland's most adventurous away display of the season saw them rewarded as Nicklas Bendtner headed them back in front, before Larsson capped another counter-attacking move with his second goal.

But two late goals - another from Balotelli and one from Aleksandar Kolarov - prevented the Black Cats from securing a league double over City.

The Ref: Lee Probert

Officiating Sunderland matches on just three occasions last season, Probert handed out 11 yellow cards - the bulk of them coming in the FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Everton at the Stadium of Light.

The four games that the Gloucestershire native has been in charge of this season have all come in the Premier League, the most notable being Swansea City's 5-0 opening day win at Queens Park Rangers.

What The Managers Said

Martin O'Neill:

I'm delighted with the team. They have been putting their heart and soul into these games and we can improve.

We've seen recently that better teams than us have played and for one reason or another have been forced back in games, to their detriment.

Of course, we want to stay as positive as we possibly can. We have to go and attack; we can't sit back.

If we did that for say, half a game, Man City would be too strong for us. We are capable of attacking - I think there will be space there for us and we have the players to cause them problems.

Roberto Mancini:

Every time we play Sunderland they give a fantastic performance and I think it will be the same for this game.

We only took a point against them last season, but we battled back from 3-1 down with five minutes to go to draw 3-3 and that point perhaps won us the title. We need to remember that game and how difficult it was for us - but also for the spirit and determination we showed.

We played on Wednesday night and on Saturday we start at lunchtime - it doesn't give the players much time to recover which is why I had to rest some players against Dortmund.

We need at least five or six of the team to be fresh against Sunderland. Every other country has at least three days before their next game - some have four - so this is a problem for us and for the teams in this country.

Roker Report Predicts

...That it will be incredibly difficult to maintain our unbeaten run, but, it is in these games that Sunderland, and O'Neill, seems to thrive. Given Mancini's concerns about how quick this game has come for his side, the Italian is armed with a ready-made excuse should proceedings not run as smooth as his suits. City's defence not being as resolute as last season so far does provide a crevice that Steven Fletcher can hopefully blow wide open, but we think another result can be ground out. A 2-2 draw, and lots of complaining from those in blue to follow.

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