Manchester City v Sunderland – Saturday 31st March – Etihad Stadium (16:00)
The English Premier League title race has become more interesting as Manchester City’s draw last weekend at Stoke City has handed the initiative back to Manchester United, who are bidding for their 20th Championship. City are now three points behind United, who have come into their best form this season at the most critical time.
City were held 1-1 by a determined Stoke outfit last Saturday when Yaya Toure cancelled out a wonder strike from Peter Crouch. Roberto Mancini’s men have given Manchester United too many chances to get back into the title race this season, leaving the door open for United when they really should have left them dead and buried at the turn of the year. When United lost at home to Blackburn on New Year’s Eve, City went to this weekend’s opponents Sunderland the very next day and lost. City have taken just nine points from a maximum 27 in their last nine away games whilst United by contrast have earned 22 points from the same amount of away games. The pressure of the title run-in is getting to City as their earlier dominant performances are a thing of the past. However, they have managed to maintain a 100% home record with 15 wins from 15 matches. Even more impressive is the fact they have scored 44 goals and conceded just seven in those 15. City need to find something extra if they are to stay within touching distance of United, at least till the big showdown when they host their arch-rivals on April 30th. In their last home match they earned a come from behind 2-1 win over Chelsea. The telling factor in that win was the return of Carlos Tevez, who has made two promising substitute appearances since his return from exile. The Argentine has looked sharp and ready to feature in the starting line-up and show the likes of Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko how it should be done.
With James McClean irresistible and Stephane Sessegnon returning to great effect last weekend, a Sunderland victory against QPR seemed inevitable from the moment Nicklas Bendtner planted an emphatic header past QPR to give the Black Cats the lead. Sunderland’s Irish winger James McClean has tripled his money with a new three-year deal, but Martin O’Neill reckons that lucrative new contract is only the first chapter in the McClean success story. A terrific assist, a brilliant goal and a display brimming with confidence and intent was more than enough to earn him man of the match as Sunderland brushed QPR aside. Sunderland slipped up in their last away match going down 2-0 to Blackburn Rovers but had given some promising performances before that, drawing at Everton and Newcastle. Sunderland will be hoping to do the double over City after beating them at the Stadium of Light.
For all City’s frailties away from home they are a different proposition at the Etihad, especially with Carlos Tevez back in contention. City have won the last six head to heads at home against Sunderland and won 5-0 here last season. This looks likely to be win number seven.