As far as opening day fixtures go, the Premier League super-computer presented us with probably the worst case scenario when Manchester City were announced as our first opponents.
Not only do we have to contend with a 5:30pm trip to the Etihad under the reign of its new king, Pep Guardiola, but we face a team that, put simply, we just aren’t very good against historically. Not the ideal way to start a new campaign, then.
In twenty four Premier League games against City, Sunderland have managed only five wins and three draws, averaging just 0.75 points per game. In those games, The Lads average just under one goal scored while conceding just over two, although our last four league encounters have seen us ship twelve goals. The last time we beat City was at the Stadium of Light in November 2013, where a Phil Bardsley goal was enough to earn three points. In fact, all five Premier League wins over City have come at home. On our travels, we’ve managed a measly two draws from twelve games, or put another way, two points from a possible thirty six. Yes, our away record against City is that bad.
But all hope may not be lost, for we may have an ace up our sleeve - a bogeyman, if you like. In stark contrast to our appalling record against City, our new manager has a rather impressive one.
In twenty four Premier League games against City for Everton and Manchester United, Moyes has an impressive win rate of fifty percent, losing just eight. And although Moyes’ sides have conceded more than they have scored against City, the Scotsman boasts an impressive 1.67 points per game against the boys in blue.
Much has been made of Moyes’ record against the Premier League big boys, particularly away from home, having won none of forty nine away games at the ‘Big Four’ (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United). His home record is not much better. In fact, Moyes has won only four of twenty four against Arsenal, three of twenty five against Chelsea, three of twenty four against Liverpool and three of twenty one against Manchester United. Hardly great, then.
Yet for some reason, Moyes has always enjoyed success against Manchester City. Well, for Everton, at least, but more on that later. Between January 2010 and May 2011, Everton beat City four times in succession, and Moyes was more successful against Roberto Mancini than any other manager had been.
Moyes himself admitted that he had no idea as to why he was so successful against City before his first Manchester derby, saying: "I can’t give you a reason why it was [a good record], I’ve no idea why it was." He did, however, add that City’s newly found wealth may have played a part in Everton’s success. "Yeah, I think there was a bit at that time, probably because we couldn’t match Manchester city and they had moved on," he said.
Everton fans have speculated as to why Moyes has enjoyed so much success against City, noting that Joleon Lescott’s 2009 summer transfer to Manchester lit a fire inside of the Scotsman.
James Topping, quoted in The Guardian, said that "Moyes was outraged at the way Mark Hughes courted Lescott, and the following game at Goodison felt much more like a derby." Indeed, ahead of the game, Moyes accused City of acting with "no class" in the match-day programme.
City, of course, were taken over in September 2008 by the Abu Dhabi United Group, setting them on the path to becoming one of football’s elite. With that came an influx of star players, such as Carlos Tevez, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and David Silva. You might expect that Moyes’ and Everton’s success against City came before the Abu Dhabi investment, then. Quite the opposite, in fact, with Moyes winning seven games after September 2008, losing just two.
His success against City eventually faded when he joined city rivals Manchester United, losing both derbies in his solitary season at Old Trafford. City may have simply been the better team on both occasions, although there was clearly a different atmosphere in the fixture with local bragging rights at stake, not to mention fan pressure to come out as kings of Manchester. With Everton there was no such pressure. More often than not, Everton were underdogs after City’s Abu Dhabi takeover, which played perfectly into Moyes’ hands as Everton counter-attacked their way to numerous victories.
After shipping goals for fun last season, Sam Allardyce was finally able to shore up the defence, conceding only nine goals in our final ten games. Much of Moyes’ success against City was based on resolute defending and frustrating their attacking efforts. In Younes Kaboul, Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchhoff, we have a solid defensive triangle which has developed a good understanding between them.
Like Everton at times, we have nothing to lose and plenty to gain. The onus is on City to beat us, with the fans probably expecting a comfortable win. Of course, a lot has changed at the Etihad since Moyes last faced City. They have world class players and now have a world class manager to get the best out of them, and history would suggest that we’ll probably struggle on Saturday. In David Moyes though, we have a manager who is a proven result getter against City, and we’ve shown in pre-season that the players are fit and willing to work hard for each other, which represents a huge upgrade on last season.
It’s set to be a tough task for us on Saturday, but maybe, just maybe, the bogeyman will strike again.