Few would’ve predicted this fixture had potential to be a bogey match for Manchester City, but a thrilling 2-2 result versus basement dwelling Sunderland may well be the nail in the coffin for City’s title aspirations.
Having dropped a crucial game against Liverpool on Sunday at Anfield, City returned to the Etihad Stadium knowing they needed full points from their remaining six contests to truly put pressure on Liverpool and Chelsea in the chase for Premier League glory. The matchup against bottom-of-the-league Sunderland proved tough for the home side thanks to Sunderland’s physical prowess. And it may still affect City in their remaining fixtures.
City have ample talent and skill around the park. What they lack is size to compete with the aerial, direct game that is a trademark of most lower table teams. Compounding matters, as evidence by Sunderland’s boisterous performance, is 6-foot-3 injury absentee Yaya Toure, who will be out at least a couple weeks after suffering a groin injury in the Liverpool defeat.
For a team that fields an army of small wizards in the form of David Silva, Samir Nasri, Fernandinho, Jesus Navas and Sergio Aguero, the need for Toure’s bigger body to compete for balls in the midfield and on set pieces is vital to City’s success.
It’s hard to believe, but Sunderland will probably feel more hard done from the 2-2 score-line. John O’Shea failed to hit the target on two free headers inside the City box. Connor Wickham, the 6-foot-3 striker, preferred to fellow goal-shy frontman Jozy Altidore more than repaid manager Gus Poyet‘s selection of him by potting a second half double.
Had it not been for the faulty hands of keeper Vito Mannone on Nasri’s 88th minute leveler, Sunderland would’ve fully deserved to head back to the north east with all three points. If there ever was a result that highlighted Toure’s importance to the team, this was it.
Assuming Toure misses the next two weeks, as indicated, that would mean City would be without their midfield cog and engine for West Bromwich Albion‘s visit on Monday as well as their trip the following Sunday to Selhurst Park to play Crystal Palace.
West Brom currently sit only three points clear of relegation, but possess size both in midfield, with the 6-foot-2 attacking winger Chris Brunt, and up front in the form of the bullish 6-foot-3 Victor Anichebe. To think that both would feature prominently in manager Pepe Mel‘s game plan, after watching this result against Sunderland, is a logical conclusion.
Palace meanwhile, who just won their fourth straight game in impressive fashion over top 4 contender Everton, should have some momentum heading into their April 27 showdown against the sky blue team from Manchester. For one to hope or fear that a couple more points could be stolen from City’s grasp in the final weeks of the season isn’t as far of a stretch that many may have thought previously. After all, Sunderland just laid out the blueprint.
City do play an attractive brand of attacking football with their small players. The defensive frailties that come with fielding that type of team are beginning to be more exposed, however, and could prove costly for their quest to win the league.