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Talking Tactics With Rory Fallow: Manchester City v SAFC

Talking Tactics is back to analyse a narrow opening day defeat for Sunderland against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City.

Line Up

Injuries meant the Sunderland starting XI contained a few surprises. The absences of Lee Cattermole and Jan Kirchhoff meant the central pair comprised of Jack Rodwell and John O'Shea, instantly signalling this wouldn't be a game where Sunderland would look to pass their way around the midfield. Donald Love was handed a debut at right back, despite only signing a few days previous, with Patrick van Aanholt retaining the left back role. Amidst speculation surrounding his future Lamine Kone started at centre half alongside Younes Kaboul, as they looked to continue their sterling partnership from the end of last season.

In the attacking areas, Jermain Defoe started as the lone striker with Fabio Borini in the number 10 role. Duncan Watmore started on the right hand side and there was a surprising first Premier League start for academy product Lynden Gooch, who played wide on the left.

Continuing to hold onto the number 1 jersey was Vito Mannone and that completed The Lads line up in 4-2-3-1 formation.


For the home side, the main area of intrigue was in their defence. Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna started at left and right back respectively, while debutant John Stones played alongside Aleksandar Kolarov in central defence. It was unusual to see Kolarov in such a role, especially as you'd expect Stones to have someone more assured next to him on his debut, but he would be offered further protection by Fernandinho, who started in central midfield with David Silva.

City boasted an impressive attacking front four, spear headed by Sergio Aguero. Behind the Argentinian was Raheem Sterling on the right, new signing Nolito on the left and Kevin De Bruyne just behind. Guardiola made the big call of dropping Joe Hart for his first game in charge of Man City, preferring Willy Cabellero due to his better ability with the ball at his feet.

The Match

With Manchester City taking such an early lead, Sunderland had to make sure they didn't deviate from their game plan and had to make sure they kept themselves in the game for as long as possible. Some bright looking attacking play in the first two minutes, which resulted in Patrick van Aanholt testing Willy Caballero from a free kick, showed that the visitors wouldn't be turning up at the Etihad just to roll over.

It was a very frustrating goal for Sunderland to concede though as it was completely avoidable. A heavy touch from van Aanholt saw him give away possession and be caught in no mans land. So when the ball was played to Raheem Sterling, he was already at a huge disadvantage, leading to a lunge that was always going to end up with the referee pointing to the spot. A big blow for The Lads but one they had to quickly get over and make sure City didn't do even further damage.

It looked like it would get worse before it got better for Sunderland, with City having just under 80% possession for the opening half an hour, leading to four shots on goal after Sergio Aguero gave them the lead. To their credit though, the Black Cats defended the edge of their box well and limited the home sides time in their penalty area. It meant most of the shots facing Vito Mannone weren't particularly troubling and only two of them forced him into a save. Manchester City were still looking dangerous though, as Pep Guardiola used his patented technique of pushing his full backs high up and inside, as Fernandinho dropped deeper from his midfield position. It was leading to Sunderland looking overwhelmed at times but they kept their discipline, only allowing City three shots on goal between 20 and 40 minutes, all of which were off target.

Sunderland's debutante youngsters had managed to hold their own so far. Donald Love had been left exposed in the early stages of the game but after noticing the threat of City's interloping full backs, he was offered defensive support which allowed him to grow into the game. Fellow youngster Lynden Gooch hadn't looked out place at all so far, high praise for a player of his experience, as he made a couple of dribbles and attempted three tackles in the first half. It may not be ground breaking stuff but it showed that he was confident and unfazed by the occasion.

In the last fifteen minutes of the first half, Sunderland enjoyed their best spell. City's possession dropped by 10% and The Lads had three shots to the home sides two. Jack Rodwell, who had been far too quiet so far, completed 100% of his passes in this period which was needed as Sunderland's midfield hadn't stood up enough to City's might. Jermain Defoe went closest for the visitors when his scissored effort was unfortunate to not beat Cabellero. It showed that provided they could create for Defoe, they'd have a route back into the game but Fabio Borini and Duncan Watmore had struggled to find the striker quickly enough when presented the opportunity.

The second half began with Man City looking more like they had done just after they took the lead. A staggering 85% of possession in the first 15 minutes showed just how determined they were to put the game to bed but Sunderland, and Younes Kaboul in particular, was just not allowing them to break through. As we'd kept seeing, Pep Guardiola's boys weren't being allowed to shoot and their dominance only saw them have one shot on target in those first 15.

With Sunderland still very much in the game, David Moyes elected to make his first substitutions as he brought on Wahbi Khazri & Adnan Januzaj for Duncan Watmore and Lynden Gooch. It kept Sunderland in the same shape but the subs would hopefully add that little bit of quality that they'd been so far lacking. It didn't take long for Januzaj to provide that quality either, getting the better of three City players before finding Fabio Borini who turned and moved the ball onto Jack Rodwell. John Stones was drew out of defence to come and meet Rodwell, which allowed him to slot the ball through to Jermain Defoe who had no problem putting the ball underneath Willy Cabellero. It was a well crafted goal and one that Moyes side had deserved after doing so well to keep themselves in the game.

The focus now shifted on to whether Sunderland would hold onto their point or whether Manchester City would get out jail. Looking to consolidate, Paddy McNair replaced Jermain Defoe as the formation switched to a more orthodox 4-5-1 with Januzaj operating as a false 9. City once again regained their dominance in possession, getting it back up to 80% in the final 15 minutes, but Sunderland's defence kept on holding strong as they made four tackles, won four aerial battles and even made four dribbles as they looked to bring the ball out of defence and into City territory.

When you're looking as strong and organised as that, you know that the only way you'll concede is if you get some cruel bad luck and that's exactly what happened. A ball down the line found substitute Jesus Navas one on one with Patrick van Aanholt which allowed the winger to send in a pace ridden low cross. Mannone managed to parry the ball away from his goal, only for it to hit the unsuspecting face of Paddy McNair. Just as it looked like Sunderland were set to earn an unexpected draw, it was snatched away from them.


There isn't a lot you can analyse about Sunderland's performance here. It's not going to be every week they play in an environment where they see so little of the ball and, to be fair, they seemed fine to concede possession. That was reflected in how solid the defence looked with Younes Kaboul being the stand out player. A couple of tackles, three interceptions, five clearances, three blocks and three aerial battles won shows just how dominant Kaboul was. The fact that Sergio Aguero only managed eight touches in the box (46 overall, the lowest of any of Man City's outfield starters) further underlines how much of a good performance the former Spurs man had.

The main negative for Sunderland will come from the lack of impact Fabio Borini and Duncan Watmore had on the game. I don't want to judge them too harshly as it's not exactly the type of game they would thrive in, but both looked laboured in possession and they need to get the ball to Defoe quicker. It'll be interesting to see whether they both retain their places for the game against Middlesbrough, as it's hard to ignore Adnan Januzaj's impact and Wahbi Khazri's best displays last season all came at home.

With a depleted looking squad, Sunderland can still take a lot from this defeat. If they can be as good at the back while asserting more control, they'll fare well in their upcoming games. David Moyes will hope that Jan Kirchhoff can regain fitness, as his passing, tackling and composure will be a big step towards Sunderland taking control of matches.

It's early days for David Moyes but on the evidence of this performance, Sunderland fans have reason to be optimistic.

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