It’s a question I’ve been struggling to answer but I’ll ask it anyway – just how bad were Sunderland against Everton in midweek?
The Toffees were excellent, granted, but in what was their biggest game of the season in front of a packed crowd at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland were as abject as you could imagine as their dreams of a Wembley FA Cup semi-final evaporated without even a whimper.
I’d noted previously that Sunderland’s performances had tailed off after an initial improvement upon the arrival of Martin O’Neill, but that upturn now seems to have faded altogether.
There was a very interesting analysis piece this week by tactical guru and Sunderland fan Jonathon Wilson, who claimed that, in terms of on-field statistics (shots, possession etc), there is very little to choose between O’Neill and his predecessor Steve Bruce, which not only backs up my opinion of the Black Cats but is also food for thought for the supporters on Wearside.
The Northern Irishman has no doubt improved the fortunes of Sunderland, but how much of it has been built on sand will be interesting to see in the coming months, as will the reaction of the players who, with safety secured, have absolutely nothing to play for.
Their next assignment is as tough as it gets and I don’t hold out much hope for them getting a result against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
The odds compilers at bwin agree wholeheartedly, making City the firm favourites at 11/50, with Sunderland the 12/1 outsiders and the draw at 19/4.
O’Neill lost any goodwill when he chose to sign Wayne Bridge and Sotirios Kyrgiakos in January. The poor Greek played like Bambi on (Smirnoff) Ice against Everton and it could be seriously embarrassing against Sergio Aguero and company.
Those are the sorts of odds that you expect when a side treading water in mid-table travel to a title-chasing team who are near-impenetrable at home.
Whatever their travails on the road, the Citizens have won 20 straight home games in the Premier League – not even bitter rivals Manchester United have ever managed that – and they won’t be making any mistake against Sunderland.
City will just be pleased to get back on home turf. If it isn’t their poor away form (just three wins in ten away league fixtures) that is giving Roberto Mancini a headache, it is the intervention of club ambassador Patrick Vieira causing the City boss problems.
If someone at the Etihad thought it was a good idea to wheel the ex-Arsenal captain out to try and get under the skin of United, they might want to think again.
At the Etihad though, there are no such worries and there won’t be any on Saturday either. As on so many occasions this season, it will be a case of trying to find the best value on a City win, which is a difficult task with the prices so short.
My advice would be to take the 31/20 that City win giving Sunderland a two-goal headstart. Everyone knows that the Citizens have goals galore in them at home – they have scored 44 in 15 matches and 16 in the last six – and the way Sunderland defended on Tuesday you worry about how many they might let in at the Etihad.
O’Neill does have injuries to defenders Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Kieran Richardson, so he deserves a degree of sympathy, but he lost any goodwill when he chose to sign Wayne Bridge and Sotirios Kyrgiakos in January.
The poor Greek played like Bambi on (Smirnoff) Ice against Everton and it could be seriously embarrassing against Sergio Aguero and company.
With the prospect of the title being decided by goal difference still looming large, Mancini will want goals at home – take the 31/20 that he gets them in a convincing victory.
Recommended bet: Manchester City to win by at least three goals @31/20
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