Manchester City 1-0 Sunderland - It Was A Stupid Made-Up Tournament Anyway

Robert Cianflone

Sunderland were narrowly defeated by Manchester City in the final of the Barclay's Asia Cup by a brilliant early strike from Edin Dzeko on a pitch that began the day looking like the sand in the arena, and ended it looking like the battlefield of Agincourt.

The final of the absolutely huge and very much incredibly important Barclay's Asia Trophy kicked off on a surface that looked more like that of the Colosseum than a football pitch. Paolo Di Canio doubtless hoped this would augur well for his squad of super-fit gladiators.

The early stages of the game were very much Sunderland's, with the lads pressing City ferociously and making playing the ball out from the back very difficult for them. A sign of what could come from this strategy was in the first minute when Adam Johnson succeeded in nicking the ball from Gael Clichy high up the pitch, but was unable to play in a team-mate.

However, Sunderland's good work in the first ten minutes was undone when City managed to open the scoring. A lifted ball from Yaya Toure was cleared from the box by Wes Brown, only to fall at the feet of the Bosnian Behemoth Edin Dzeko. City's number ten then unleashed an unstoppable shot that left Vito Mannone no chance. It was a very good goal, one of those where it's hard to really say what Sunderland could have done to stop it. 1-0 to Manchester Blues.

Straight after the kick off there were nearly goals for both sides. Firstly, Sunderland lost the ball as soon as they'd restarted play, and were lucky that City's attack came to nothing. Directly following this, the lads launched an attack themselves and were this time unlucky that Adam Johnson slipped on the sandy turf just when he needed to play the ball in for Jozy Altidore, who had made a clever run.

City had several more chances throughout the first half, with a few more Dzeko shots safely saved by Vito Mannone, and new boy Alvaro Negredo succeeding in getting behind the Sunderland defence on several occasions, but not managing to take advantage.

It was usually David Silva who succeeding in finding his fellow Spaniard, and the ease with which City were getting behind the Sunderland back-line could represent a reason for Paolo Di Canio to re-jig his back four before the start of the season. Despite their experience and undoubted talent, neither John O'Shea or Wes Brown can be considered particularly quick, and City managed to take advantage of this.

Sunderland had a succession of free-kicks and corners throughout the first half. The first free-kick, very early on, showed promise for the rest of the match when Larsson's ball was swung in well, and headed wide by Brown.

However, subsequent set-pieces failed to cause much worry for their gargantuan goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon as normal service was resumed and corners were thwacked pointlessly into the first man. The only one of note occurring when the goalkeeper flapped at Adam Johnson's corner and failed to hold it, but the referee adjudged the 6'8 Romanian to have been fouled by the 5'6 Stephane Sessegnon. Yeah, sure.

Just before half-time City had two chances to double their lead. Firstly, Negredo managed to bully his way into the box, only to be impressively disposed by last man Colback. Their final chance came on the stroke of half-time as City were awarded a free-kick out on the right-wing after a Colback foul. Silva's delivery was swung out to the far post where Craig Gardner, in trying to fend off Matija Nastasic, headed it back towards his own goal. Luckily for him instead of slamming into the corner of the net, it rebounded off the near post and was eventually cleared as the referee blew for half-time.

Overall it was a fairly uneventful half. Sunderland steadied themselves after their opponent's early goal, and maintained their pressing for most of the half, but succeeded in creating almost no clear cut chances. A nice lay-off from Jozy Altidore to Emanuele Giaccherini saw the cuddly-bear sized winger's curled shot deflected out for a corner, and Sessegnon just missed out on making clean contact with a lofted ball into the box by the Italian. Other than that, the lads played the ball around nicely enough at times, but were no real threat to the City goal.

Both sides rang the changes at half-time, with City bringing on new signing Jesus Navas to replace James Milner, and Samir Nasri in place of David Silva. Paolo Di Canio decided to give Keiren Westwood a half in goal, and also brought on Connor Wickham, who had come so close to scoring in a brief cameo against Spurs, and El Hadji Ba in place of Jozy Altidore and Cabral.

The opening minutes of the second half saw Adam Johnson heavily involved, as he first won a free kick down by the corner flag after tempting a Clichy foul, which obviously came to nothing, and then was played in a couple of times behind the defence by his team-mates. However, no real clear-cut chances came from any of these moves.

One noteworthy moment came near the hour-mark as John O'Shea clattered into Alvaro Negredo from behind, and sent the big Spaniard sprawling fizz-first into the heavily churned mud in the centre of pitch. As he clambered back to his feet, his front caked in Hong Kong dirt, you can't help but feel that Negredo may have got the "Welcome to Big School" message the Irishman's shove was probably meant to impart.

Despite the seriousness that both teams had signaled they were approaching the Definitely A Real Tournament Cup, the raft of changes that tend to characterise the second half of friendlies continued a-pace as Adam Johnson was replaced by David Moberg-Karlsson, who had been seriously impressive with a goal and an assist against Spurs. Manuel Pellegrini also made changes with Javi Garcia, Yaya Toure and Gael Clichy departing, and Fernandinho, Jack Rodwell and Aleksander Kolarov trotting on.

El Hadji Ba was unlucky a few minutes later as the referee harshly awarded a penalty when the young Frenchman handled the ball in the penalty area. Although it may have looked exactly like deliberate handball, in fact Ba was merely under the impression that he was playing basketball. Edin Dzeko obviously felt for the Bambi-esque midfielder, and gallantly elected to send his penalty into orbit rather than taking advantage of such an innocent mistake.

City were forced to make another change when Matija Nastasic had to, sadly, be carried off on a stretcher. Joleon Lescott replaced him. A few minutes later, City had their best chance yet to make sure of their win. Samir Nasri squared a ball to Jesus Navas, and the Spanish winger shot beat Westwood but was brilliantly cleared off the line by Craig Gardner.

A few more corners for Sunderland followed, with nothing much doing from any of them. Giaccherini also had an appeal for a penalty, probably correctly, turned down after a collision in the City box. Not long after the fun-sized Italian was replaced by Irish wing wizard James McClean. Well, maybe not wizard. Wing squib perhaps. It was a fairly decent performance again from Giaccherini, who showed some nice touches and close control, and also showed that he's willing to have a shot on goal if the chance arises. He also played a part in calmly playing the ball out of danger at the back a few times, which is nice to see.

The last real piece of action in the game came as Sunderland were awarded a free-kick right on the edge of the City box. The season before last, a free-kick in this position would have had Sunderland fans on the edge of their seats waiting for some Larsson magic. And it was indeed the sexy Swede (as opposed to the gurning Brummie) who stepped up to take the kick, which succeeded in testing Pantilimon but was in the end safely pushed away by him and cleared.

Big Lad Mandron replaced Stephane Sessegnon with minutes to go, but didn't really have enough time on the pitch to make any sort of impression. Sessegnon was a bit disappointing today after his stand-out performance against Spurs, but such inconsistencies have always been his special way to treat Sunderland fans.

So as the fireworks went off to celebrate City's win, Sunderland were left to reflect on a performance that didn't quite match the excellence of the one against Spurs during the week. However, Sunderland again looked well organised in defence, and able to counter-attack and keep the ball well also.

The disappointment of missing out on this famous old trophy will take a while to fade, but there have been several positives throughout the two matches and we can definitely feel cautiously optimistic for the season ahead if the levels of performance against two more than decent Premier League sides can be replicated during next season.

We'll have more match reaction right HERE in our Match Stream, so stick around for some Player Ratings and Quick Kicks.

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