Since taking charge of Sunderland on the 5th of December, the fortunes of the Club appear to be looking a little better. However the points they have picked up are against those around them in the table and they lost away to Spurs, which isn't all that bad given Spurs' current form.
Where they might be in the table had they held onto Darren Bent last January and Assamoah Gyan is anyone's guess, but the fact that Sebastian Larsson is their current top scorer tells a story itself. That's not a slur on Larsson at all, and he is definitely going to be a goal threat for the defence to watch out for. But the fact that Larsson is a midfielder tells you they haven't managed to replace the threat that Bent and Gyan posed in front of goal. In all honesty, Niklas Bendtner wasn't ever going to be the answer to the loss of those two players.
It will be interesting to see how O'Neill deploys his midfield as this is where a game against City is really won or lost. Playing a defensive 6-3-1 like Stoke certainly isn't the answer as this gives City's midfield far too much space and time to look for the right pass. West Brom on the other hand, although once again playing defensively, played with 2 close banks of 4 which limited the amount of space for players like Silva to thread that killer ball into.
That hasn't always worked for teams as we've seen, but it certainly makes it more difficult for City to break through, and I suspect that may be how O'Neill will look to thwart City's advances on Sunday.
As for City, I fully expect Mancini to field a very different team to the one that started against West Brom. Why? Because City play host to Liverpool just 2 days later. Liverpool will also have had an extra 48 hours rest so it will be up to Mancini to try and keep the '1st' 11 as fresh as possible.
The 2 main headaches will be the full-back and central midfield positions. At the time of writing this there is no news on the fitness of Micah Richards or Aleks Kolarov. If both are fit to play I suspect Aleks will play at left-back and Zaba will continue to play on the right. This being with the Liverpool game in mind of course where Richards and Clichy would start.
As regards to the midfield issue, does Gareth Barry start against Sunderland after only being used as a sub against West Brom? Or does he sit on the bench again and be fully fit to face Liverpool? I know this wont be popular with a lot of the newer City support, I'd rather him play against Liverpool as he has been one of, if no the most consistent performer in the entire squad since the start of last season. My thoughts on his contribution will have to wait for now though.
If I was pushed to make a decision on who will start in the centre I'd go for De Jong and possibly Abdul Razak. Mancini is going to want Barry and Yaya fit to face Liverpool, and I've simply no idea what is happening with Owen Hargreaves.
A recall to action is in order for Edin Dzeko, after missing out on his last chance through a late ankle injury. As mentioned in previous articles, he is due a few goals as he seems to score in fits and starts. Although he is getting less opportunity at the moment due to the ever increasing contributions of Mario Balotelli.
I suspect this will be quite a tough game, especially with the number of changes we might see to the starting 11. Even so, City have enough ability to win and keep another clean sheet. Whether that happens, we'll find out on Sunday.
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