Saturday, 30 August 2008

Sunderland preview

Coming at the end of one of the most exciting weeks I can remember as a City fan, confidence must be high for the trip to the Stadium of Light. It started last Sunday with the 3-0 demolition of West Ham at home. After the embarrassment of the first leg loss to Midtjylland and the frustrating defeat at Villa Park, it meant a lot to produce a performance of such courage and verve.

Thursday was, even by the standards of the last twelve months, a day of drama, thrills and potential catastrophe. At lunch time the club confirmed the return of the lost son, Shaun Wright-Phillips, for an undisclosed fee. Short hours later, the second leg against Midtjylland kicked off. We witnessed 89 minutes of terrible, terrible football, so bad that the 2006/07 team would have disowned it with disgust. But in the dying seconds of normal time, Ched Evans headed the ball onto Danny Califf's face, and you all know the rest.

Confidence ought to be high. I wish this would be sufficient to beat Roy Keane's Sunderland, but I think City will be in for a real battle. Even though we won at the Stadium of Light last season (and beat them at home), this is the type of game we didn't do as well in last year as we might: we drew at Derby, Bolton, Fulham and Wigan, and lost at Reading, Middlesbrough and Birmingham City. This is an area in which I imagine we'll see a marked improvement under Hughes.

Sunderland are not a particularly bad team: Diouf, Cisse, Chimbonda, Malbranque, Ferdinand and Gordon are all decent players. And so far this year they've matched Liverpool and lost, then outplayed Spurs at White Hart Lane. If we play like we did on Thursday we've got no chance. But with Kompany and Wright-Phillips on form, we could just come away with the points. For the second consecutive Sunday, I'm going to predict 1-1.

There are some interesting selection dilemmas. I presume Kompany and Wright-Phillips will both come into Thursday's team. Kompany will presumably replace Richards in the middle, who will in turn replace Ben Haim alongside Dunne. It is then possible that Ben Haim could play in either full back slot, especially if Corluka is busy with Damien Comolli and Zabaleta's forms haven't come through yet. Yet another alternative sees Micah at right back for Charlie, and the same Irish/Israeli partnership at centre half we got in midweek.

If SWP starts then surely Stevie Ireland drops to the bench, having been as inhibited on Thursday as he was inventive last Sunday. The final issue concerns Elano's strike partner. Jô did look slightly off the pace in Denmark, but he cannot improve without games. Danny Strurridge impresses me more whenever I see him, but played almost as many minutes as Jô on Thursday and may start from the bench.

1 comment:

Pablo said...