Roberto Mancini’s side dominated a Sunderland team that for all their good football lacked any real penetration in attack and are too easy to exploit at the back. This was a much better performance for City following on from the visit of Borussia Dortmund in midweek. Here are five quick observations…
Joy for City’s full backs
Aleksandar Kolarov was the most impressive player on the pitch today and rightly took the man of the match award. The left back was superb when his side gained possession and caused all sorts of problems for Craig Gardner at right back – who looked uncomfortable playing out of position. Kolarov scored the first for his side with another superb free kick and Sergio Aguero’s goal was the result of the City left back overlapping David Silva before delivering a clever cross along the six yard box. On the other side for City, Pablo Zabaleta was just as impressive. With David Silva leaving the right flank at will, the Argentinian full back was always an available outlet for his side, just as against Southampton earlier this season, and as the diagram shows, both full backs received the ball more times in the Sunderland half than their own, showing just how dominant City were as a side.
Sunderland lack penetration
In periods Sunderland kept the ball very well with Sebastien Larsson and Jack Colback making clever decisions on the ball and James McClean, Adam Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon in the hole all showed some good touches. However, when Sunderland were able to zip the ball around at a good tempo and relieve some of the pressure from their back four, they never seriously looked like getting in behind the City defence or creating a real clear cut opportunity – instead they were most successful from crosses when Steven Fletcher peeled off to the far post to compete with Zabaleta. It’s odd that despite having a number of potentially creative players in midfield, none of them seemed confident enough to take the game to City and try something different.
Richards and Lescott impress
Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards both returned to the starting line-up for City, with Vincent Kompany out of the squad altogether reportedly due to injury. However, the all-England centre back pairing impressed with both players having very solid games. Lescott completed 88% of his passes, with Richards finding a team mate 90% of the time and winning an incredible eight aerial duels in the 90 minutes. It is obvious that City’s captain will return to the starting line-up once fit but it will be interesting to see whether it is Lescott or Richards who ends up partnering the Belgian, with Lescott perhaps the favourite to get a starting place.
Today highlighted that Sunderland have two real weaknesses in their side. The first was in the two full back positions where both Gardner on the right and Danny Rose on the left struggled against the attacking talents of Mario Balotelli and Silva and the forceful running from deep of both Zabaleta and Kolarov. It is clear that Sunderland are weakened considerably by the absence of both Phil Bardsley and Wes Brown, who would both feature in Martin O’Neill’s best eleven. The second area of weakness is in central midfield. Larsson is played best as a right sided midfielder and yes on the ball he is very good but he lacks the tenacity needed to play as a two in the centre of the pitch. Jack Colback is just as useful on the ball and a more willing tackler but he is not a physical enough presence and needs someone more intimidating than Larsson alongside him if he is to play in a partnership. Manchester City have a Yaya Toure to turn to – a central midfielder who can attack and is good on the ball but also able to dominate a midfield through his sheer presence and tenacity, and it was obvious at times that Sunderland lacked anything close to this.
Aguero shows his class
Sergio Aguero highlighted emphatically just how important he is to his side. After replacing Balotelli on 56 minutes the Argentine striker contributed greatly to City’s play by upping the tempo, adding more clever movement off the ball, working harder than the Italian he replaced when his side lost possession and by taking his goal superbly well. Aguero has now scored in his last two Premier League games and Roberto Mancini must surely see him as his number one striker this season.
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