"If she can stand it I can. Play it."
"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." Humphrey Bogart's heavy words in Casablanca might resonate with Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini right about now because the Premier League schedule and FA Cup draw are having a bit of karmic sport with City at the moment.
There are 18 teams in the Premier League that City might be playing in their next league match other than Sunderland.
In terms of which teams remain on City's home slate, Aston Villa, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion would be suitably nondescript opponents. Not easy wins, mind you, but opponents not laden with import beyond points in the table.
Instead, it is Sunderland, a team who already beat City at the Stadium of Light in the league this season and will face City in the Capital One Cup Final in a few weeks.
This is not the salve Pellegrini's wounded, listing side needs right now.
As far as the FA Cup draw goes, at least a handful of non-Premier League sides are still alive in the fifth round. However, City will not be welcoming, say, Charlton Athletic to the Etihad.
Rather, City will get a third crack at Chelsea. You know, the London side that already did the double against City in the league this season.
So you said you wanted to manage a big club, Mr. Pellegrini?
City are now third in the league table. Even if they were not set to face Sunderland for silverware in March, City would still train their biggest guns at the Black Cats in search of three crucial points.
As you may have heard, though, Pellegrini's ordinarily astonishing array of talent has been slowly depleted in recent days.
Sergio Aguero, the only striker who seems sure to score whenever he plays, is out with yet another hamstring problem. Don't think Pellegrini is unaware of that fact.
"It is difficult coping without the spark of Aguero," Pellegrini recently told John Edwards of the Daily Mail. "Scoring is always the most difficult thing in football."
Strangely enough, a City side that has been blanked only four times all season will face two of the sides to accomplish that feat in its next two matches. Without Aguero.
City will also continue to be without midfielders Samir Nasri and Fernandinho in the Sunderland match. Neither man is a pure goal scorer, but their ball-controlling contributions make life easier for the likes of David Silva and Yaya Toure.
How will City fare against Sunderland?
Speaking of the Ivorian, Toure's kick out at Norwich City man Ricky van Wolfswinkel toward the end of City's regrettable scoreless draw at Carrow Road was none too smart. ESPNFC.com reports that Toure avoided an FA charge. He is fortunate that his petulant action did not cost his team.
Pellegrini will need to pry goals from this makeshift lineup somehow. Without a goal, it would take a miracle to beat Sunderland and the Premier League has outlawed miracles.
City's predicted XI against Sunderland: Joe Hart; Gael Clichy, Vincent Kompany, Martin Demichelis, Pablo Zabaleta; David Silva, James Milner, Yaya Toure, Jesus Navas; Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic.