Sunderland lined up in a 4141, Ki holding in front of Wes Brown and John O’Shea, having a player in this position allowed Sunderland not only to track the forward runs of Yaya Toure, often a contingency plan for Manchester City when they happen to be a goal behind, a situation Manuel Pellegrini will think he finds himself in too often, especially away from the Etihad. The other purpose was to divert Manchester City’s attack to the flanks, and encouraging them to whip in crosses which were dealt with by Brown and O’Shea, for the most part. The defensive nature of this formation also made Sunderland very difficult to break down for the citizens.
Manchester City stuck with their 4411/4231 hybrid, with Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero interchanging roles in the attacking third. Costel Pantilimon deputised in place of the out of form Joe Hart, who watched on from the bench. Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic, City’s first choice centre halves, missed out through injury.
As was mentioned before, the deployment of Ki in the holding role forced Manchester City to attack from the flanks, through Richards, Kolarov, Milner and Nasri. Perhaps due to the height of Alvaro Negredo, an option in the air was preferred by the visitors, City whipping in 50 crosses throughout the whole game, however, both John O’Shea and Wes Brown dealt with them headed out all of their defensive clearances, completing all 26 of them, meaning City only completed 11 crosses all game. City managed only 4 shots on target for the whole of the game, whilst Sunderland blocked 8 of City’s shots. Clearly Poyet’s worked on defensive resilience with the Wearsiders. Also, as we can see from the picture below, Sunderland’s work ethic allowed them to get men onto the flanks, blocking crosses and harassing attackers, we can also see that virtually all of James Milner’s options for a pass are blocked off, leaving the cross his only option, and this situation happened time and again, resulting in endless crosses which were easily headed away by the Sunderland defenders.
A worry for Manuel Pellegrini will be the manner in which Manchester City actually allowed Sunderland to score, while the goal comes from a mistake at the back, in which one of the players involved should track back and the other should attack the ball, it is also worth noting the movement of Joleon Lescott. While Lescott hasn’t had much game time this season, or indeed last, his positioning and movement for Sunderland’s goal should draw some criticism. After seeing his two teammates miss the header, allowing Bardsley an opportunity at goal, Lescott should make up the ground to get in-between Bardsley and the goal. Yet, Lescott slowly drifts towards the goal line, leaving Bardsley one on one, from which he slots home, albeit due to poor goalkeeping by Pantilimon, but the fact of the matter remains, if Lescott closes down Bardsley, he either blocks the shot or forces Bardsley to pass, allowing Manchester City to get men back, as they were doing, and delaying a Sunderland opportunity on goal.
Sunday’s defeat at Sunderland’s hand contributes to a wider problem for Manchester City, particularly away from home. It’s certainly ruled out crossing as a viable plan B, with only a 27% crossing accuracy across the whole season. Manchester City certainly need to develop another plan of attack when they encounter tight, compact defences, especially away from home. On the bright side, Manchester City have created a vast amount of chances, creating 107 chances for open play this season, yet only 27 of those are clear cut, perhaps another reason for City’s away day blues.
What are your thoughts? Sunderland are certainly improving and playing a better brand of football, but is Poyet the man to lead them from the depths? What could Manchester City’s plan B be? Can City still win the league, or will their away form be their Achilles heel?