While the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham continue to scrabble around for new signings, Manchester City have already significantly strengthened their squad during the summer transfer window.
Whether it is possible to ‘quietly’ spend the best part of £90m is open to conjecture, but Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas, Stevan Jovetic and Fernandinho have been brought in with minimal fuss and the Citizens look in great shape for the campaign ahead.
However, their results in pre-season have not been too convincing, with a pair of defeats in South Africa followed up by an uninspiring 1-0 win over South China in the last four of the Asia Trophy.
Sunderland now lie in wait in the final and I have a sneaky suspicion that the Black Cats could make life very difficult indeed for Manuel Pellegrini’s men on Saturday afternoon.
City are, understandably given the talent and options at their new manager’s disposal, rated as strong 11/20 favourites to win inside 90 minutes, with the draw at 13/5 and the Wearsiders out at 17/4.
However, rather than the miserly odds-on play on the Citizens, there are several reasons to believe that a price of 13/10 on Sunderland avoiding defeat is well worth a small flutter.
While City have been busy in the transfer market, their activity pales in comparison to that of their north-east counterparts, who have brought in a whopping eight new players already.
Boss Paolo Di Canio’s major squad overhaul is being viewed in some circles as a risk, but several of the new boys were in impressive form as Sunderland beat Tottenham 3-1 to set up the clash with City.
Cabral looks a combative and hard-working presence in midfield and showed with his cool finish against Spurs that he is no mug in the opposition’s final third either, while fellow goalscorer David Moberg-Karlsson displayed some nice touches and set-piece delivery after coming off the bench.
More can be expected from Emanuele Giaccherini, an eye-catching £6.5m capture from Juventus, after he delivered a reasonably quiet debut, but Jozy Altidore would have had a couple of goals were it not for some poor finishing and two of last season’s key men, Adam Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon, buzzed around Spurs’ rearguard with intent.
Di Canio being Di Canio, he will have been working his players incredibly hard in the past few weeks and it would be no surprise if their fitness levels were superior to City’s at this stage, even with two fewer games in their legs.
Certainly there were no issues in this department during the victory over Spurs – their first game of pre-season – despite Andre Villas-Boas’ men already having three matches under their belts.
Fitness, of course, is always a crucial factor in these tough-to-call pre-season games and that (admittedly, perceived) slight advantage for the Black Cats could be further enhanced by the dreadful pitch at the Hong Kong Stadium.
Persistent heavy rain has turned it into a nightmare surface, so the idea that City will simply pass Sunderland off the park appears far too simplistic.
The conditions could prove a real leveller and in such a scenario, 17/4 is surely a huge price on the buoyant underdogs, especially with Di Canio demanding they put everything on the line.
I would not discourage anyone from having a go on that punt, but I will play it a little safer – albeit still getting some great value – with the 13/10 that Sunderland either win or take it to a penalty shoot-out.