Manchester City lead the Premier League scoring charts with 68 goals this season, which makes it all the more worrisome that the club hasn't scored in the past two league matches, a 1-0 loss to Chelsea and a scoreless draw vs. Norwich City.
The former loss was the first time the Citizens dropped any points this year in Premier League play. The latter draw has folks wondering if City has fallen into a slump and left the Citizens in third place in the table.
Meanwhile, their opponents, Sunderland, have played well of late. Though they come into this match on the heels of a 2-0 loss to Hull City, before that they had taken 10 points of a possible 12, propelling themselves (at least temporarily) clear of the relegation zone.
Let's break down this match between teams at opposite ends of the Premier League table.
When: Wednesday at 2:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. GMT)
Where: Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England
Watch: NBC Sports Live Extra
Odds: Manchester City (71.8 percent), Sunderland (11.6 percent) and draw (16.6 percent)
Without question, injuries to Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho have affected Manchester City and the chemistry they have out on the pitch, as noted by David Mooney of ESPN FC:
One of the biggest reasons why the system has been so successful, especially during an unbeaten run of 20 matches (18 wins) in all competitions, has been the partnerships that have evolved this season.
At the back, Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis have begun to settle. In the middle, [Yaya] Toure and Fernandinho have hit it off like brothers and, up top, Aguero and [Alvaro] Negredo seem to always know where the other is.
But as soon as those partnerships have been broken, the team has struggled a little. The players that are coming into the team to replace those injured are of a high quality and are excellent individually, but they’re just not on the same wavelength as those who have been forced to miss out.
As Mooney notes, Manuel Pellegrini's 4-4-2 system has generally worked this season, but it is when the above partnerships are severed that City start to look vulnerable. It's up to Pellegrini now to find a way to make adjustments, something he seemingly hasn't done in the past two matches.
Of course, he's putting City's recent form purely on the injuries the team has sustained, as he told the team's official site:
The favourites for the title are the same favourites as three weeks ago—Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and ourselves are all in the title race,” he said.
Our recent displays are partly down to injury problems—we also have had Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko playing while not fully fit. I am not concerned that we haven’t scored in past two games. I have no doubt we will begin scoring goals again soon.
It’s normal that every team will drop points. For us, we have taken 34 out of a possible 39 points—it’s an important amount of points.
City have the firepower, even with Aguero and Fernandinho out of the lineup, to beat any team they play in the Premier League.
Sunderland don't have the same firepower (they've scored just 25 goals on the season), in large part because American striker Jozy Altidore has managed to score just one goal on the season. His poor form has been countered in some part by the strong form of Adam Johnson (seven goals, three assists) and Fabio Borini (three goals, one assist), but Sunderland need Altidore to step up his game.
Sunderland will draw confidence from the fact that they beat Manchester City in November, 1-0, though of course that game was at home. Even after the loss to Chelsea, the Citizens still have the best home form outside of Chelsea (the Blues have won 11 and drawn twice in 13 home matches).
Sunderland will put up a fight, but it's hard to see them getting a win.
The best hope for Sunderland is that City are affected by injuries. Along with Aguero and Fernandinho, Pellegrini told the team's site that Matija Nastasic will miss this match, while Samir Nasri and Javi Garcia have just returned to training.
Which team wins?
Still, City are so ridiculously deep, it shouldn't matter. This is a team that must get back to its winning ways, and after losing to Sunderland earlier in the season, it is also a team that won't take this game lightly.
Sunderland won't go quietly, but they won't be stealing any points at the Etihad. Manchester City win, 3-1.