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Talking Tactics: Manchester City (H) Sunderland Outdone By Clinical City

Sunderland saw their good run of form come to an end on Wednesday evening as they fell to a 4-1 defeat to reigning champions Manchester City at the Stadium of Light.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Line up

Gus Poyet made two changes to the side that held league leaders Chelsea to a 0-0 draw on Saturday. On-loan defender Sebastian Coates made his first Premier League start for the club replacing Wes Brown in the centre of defence, and Will Buckley was drafted back into the first team in place of Adam Johnson in midfield.

Sunderland lined up in their usual 4-1-4-1 formation.


With Captain Vincent Kompany injured and Eliaquim Mangala serving a one-match suspension, Manchester City were without their two first choice centre-halves and Manuel Pellegrini was forced to make two changes to the side that ran out 3-0 winners against Southampton on Sunday. The Eperienced Martin Demichelis returned to first team action, and the Argentinian was partnered by Dedryck Boyata with the 24-year-old making his first Premier League appearance of the season.

Manchester City set up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation.


Sunderland delivered something of a defensive masterclass on Saturday providing a great example of how the Premier League’s more modest sides can compete successfully with the elite. Given the quality of the performance against Chelsea and the impressive record Sunderland hold against Manchester City in recent years, it wouldn’t be too unreasonable to presume that the Black Cats had a real chance of grabbing three points ahead of the game on Wednesday. However, avoiding defeat for the fifth successive game was of course the priority – not to mention another massive achievement for Poyet’s side should they manage it.

With Manchester City challenged by defensive frailties there was perhaps an opportunity for the Sunderland manager to exploit an untested partnership at the heart of the opposition defence, but Pellegrini’s side are one of the most efficient counter-attacking sides in the division, so maintaining the right balance between defence and attack would be key.


Sunderland appeared to set up just as they had done against Chelsea, all be it with one or two tactical tweaks made by Poyet most likely to spring a surprise on Manchester City and exert extra pressure on the reigning champions’ makeshift defence. It became clear that the Sunderland manager had decided to deploy inverted wingers with Will Buckley operating down the left and Connor Wickham switching over to the right-hand side – although the pair appeared to have been given the freedom to alternate. This decision was most likely motivated by the absence of Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala, and Sunderland’s wingers were probably under instructions to come in from the flanks as often as possible in order to maximise the amount of play directly in front of Manchester City’s new centre-back pairing. In terms of pressing the ball, Sunderland were pressuring higher up the pitch and in larger numbers than they were doing on Saturday, and in the opening exchanges the Black Cats were the better side.

Sunderland took a deserved lead on 19 minutes, thanks to an element of luck as Pablo Zabaleta deflected his clearance off Connor Wickham and beyond Joe Hart into the City net. The chance however was carved out beautifully by Sebastian Larsson, and the Swede had played another delicious pass minutes earlier which led to a golden opportunity for Jack Rodwell.

Sebastian Larsson passing

The Black cats may have taken a deserved lead, but this moment triggered their demise in the game and unfortunately although City were clinical, Sunderland were poor.

When taking the lead at home to the reigning champions, it’s massively important you remain switched on and see out the inevitable barrage which awaits in response. Sunderland didn’t, they were caught almost immediately, and Sergio Aguero fired in a tremendous equaliser for the away side.

Sunderland never really regained any sort of power in the game, and looked clumsy in possession and jaded without it – which is understandable considering the rigours endured on Saturday against Chelsea, but frustrating considering Poyet’s side had managed to get themselves ahead..

To Manchester City’s credit they were putting in a much more threatening performance than Chelsea had done days earlier, and this on the most part was down to their ability to exploit the wide areas much more effectively than Jose Mourinho’s side.

Manchester City good exploitation of wide areas

Chelsea poor exploitation of wide areas

The Following two Manchester City goals came as a result of some very good build up play from Pellegrini’s side, but also two pretty basic Sunderland defensive errors. For the first, John O’Shea was the guilty party as he made the wrong decision to come tight to Sergio Aguero who was already being marked by Sebastioan Coates. The Sunderland defender left Stevan Jovetic unmarked to fire home, but to be fair to the Irishman Aguero’s first touch into the path of Jovetic was exquisite.

For the second, Lee Cattermole failed to track his man and allowed Zabaleta to run off the back of him into a goal-scoring position. Simple stuff, go with to one-two, don’t ball watch.

As for the final goal, there isn’t a great deal you can do. Sergio Aguero makes a fantastic run out of sight of John O’Shea, and his finish is inch perfect following a great ball from James Milner.

This rounded off a deserved win for Manchester City, and they were due a victory at the Stadium of Light.


Not a result I'm personally going to attach too much importance too. Not a great Sunderland performance, but the scoreline isn't quite reflective of the game itself. Manchester City were absolutely clinical, but Sunderland made one or two good opportunities and were ultimately undone by what seemed like a disjointed display most probably triggered by fatigue.

Sebastian Larsson was the best player on the pitch for the Black Cats, and Will Buckley hasn't done his chances of starting against Liverpool at the weekend any harm with what was also a decent outing.

I've been impressed by Jose Altidore's recent cameos, the American seems determined to have one final crack at turning the heads of Sunderland fans - but it may be too late with January fast approaching.

Another tough fixture awaits away at Liverpool on Saturday.

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