Sunderland host second placed Manchester City at the Stadium of Light tonight. Although the sides did meet after the final in a 2-2 draw midway through April last season we take a look at how both teams have changed since the 2nd of March at Wembley.
Firstly we begin with Sunderland. The North East club had a tough time of it in the Premier League last year and the League Cup certainly was a welcome reprieve from the doom and gloom which had surrounded the club in what was a difficult season.
Things didn’t improve in the league for Gus Poyet’s side following the boost the final had brought to the Black Cats, with one draw and five straight losses following their Wembley appearance.
The aforementioned 2-2 draw against Manchester City in April halted this dowward spiral and with Sunderland hanging on for Premier League survival they crawled their way back from the edge of relegation with an outstanding display of character and determination.
Poyet was about to somehow mastermind a spectacular escape. Four wins in a row against Chelsea, Cardiff, Manchester United and West Brom confirmed that the Black Cats would not need to call on their nine lives to stay up on the final day against Swansea.
Now at the beginning of December, Sunderland are perched just three points above the relegation zone an in 14th place. Signings have been made in the off-season to improve but to little immediate effect. The end-of-season drive which Poyet garnered from his team in April and May of last season will need resurrecting in order for Sunderland to survive. Can a result against Man City be the catalyst for this once again?
Manchester City come into this game high on confidence after beating both Swansea and top four surprise package Southampton in their last two games. A blip drawing against QPR preceded this but they also managed a 1-0 win over over their Manchester rivals.
Following Man City’s final victory in Wembley against Sunderland last season Manuel Pellegrini guided his side to eleven undefeated matches with just one loss against Liverpool in the midst of this great run of form.
It was a crucial run for City because they only won the league by two points in the end, just ahead of Liverpool.
Signing Frank Lampard on-loan from New York City has been one of Pellegrini’s shrewdest recruitments since March last season.
The ex-Chelsea man has scored five goals since joining City, equally Yaya Toure’s record and second behind Sergio Aguero who is well ahead with 17.
This time last March very much mirrors where the two teams are now. Sunderland have recruited a lot in defence but are still struggling, while City are quietly and efficiently going about their work to lay their hands on another title.
They will be wary of the Black Cats’ defensive capabilities however, knowing that the Stadium of Light outfit were the first team to stop Chelsea from scoring this season in their most recent fixture.
Sunderland will make it difficult at home but Man City will break through at some point.
Sunderland 0-1 Manchester City
Featured image by John Davidson [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons