Sunderland Have Reasons for Optimism Against Manchester City

Nick Miller@NickMiller79Featured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2014

Sunderland's manager Gus Poyet looks on ahead of their English FA Cup fifth round soccer match against Southampton at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland, England, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Scott Heppell/Associated Press

Sunderland’s first bit of bad news ahead of the Capital One Cup final came in Manuel Pellegrini’s press conference on Friday. As reported by Sky Sports, Pellegrini said:

Of course it is very important for the team to have Sergio again with us because he is a very important player..

It is something (Aguero's participation) I must decide and see the way he recovers from the work this week, if he is 100 per cent fit after his injury, to play the whole match.

City are a dangerous proposition as it is, but with their best player back in contention, they are something else entirely.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Manchester City are clear favourites to win the first piece of silverware of the season, given not only Aguero’s return to health, but the vast resources they have at their disposal. But can Sunderland overcome their wealthier rivals?

One of the first points they would look to is Wigan’s victory over City in last term’s FA Cup final, as Ben Watson’s goal capped off a damp squib of a season for City in which they had relinquished their Premier League title and gone out of the Champions League at the group stage.

However, that game shouldn’t have too much relevance to Sunday for no other reason than that City side was one at a low ebb—or as low as a side constructed at that cost could be. It was a ludicrously limp performance by Roberto Mancini’s side, possibly influenced by the Italian’s impending departure from the club, that pretty much everyone knew was coming before the game.

Mancini hadn’t so much lost the dressing room, he more had one foot out of it, so it was hardly a surprise that his team weren’t exactly fired up for what should have been a silver lining on a fairly gloomy cloud of a season.

Yet, there are some reasons for optimism for Sunderland, not least their good recent record against City. Sure, they have struggled as most teams have at the Etihad, but they have won their last four encounters at the Stadium of Light 1-0, which could be written off as something of a freak or an anomaly, but it does at least tell us that Gus Poyet’s side know how to beat Pellegrini’s boys.

If nothing else, Sunderland are likely to be fired up for the final, if Poyet’s comments last weekend are anything to go by. Poyet wasn’t happy after Sunderland lost their league encounter with Arsenal 4-1, claiming that the performance might well alter his approach for the City game.

He said, as per Sami Mokbel of the Mail Online:

Sometimes a good kick on the backside at the right time is good to wake you up. But until the game next week I cannot tell you which one it is.

But it is true our performance changed plenty of things in my mind. I tell you what — if the defeat at Arsenal does not help us we are going to be in trouble at Wembley. Badly.

It will be interesting to see exactly who Poyet picks. Lee Cattermole will come back into the side having been rested for the Arsenal game, while Ki-Sung Yeung should play alongside him to provide some craft in midfield.

Scott Heppell/Associated Press

Poyet might also choose to play Liverpool loanee Fabio Borini up front instead of the more obvious Jozy Altidore or Steven Fletcher. Altidore has not been particularly impressive this season, and you would think the City defence would be able to deal with his rather "unsubtle" style, while Fletcher isn’t fully fit.

Borini’s pace might provide more problems for the rather sluggish Martin Demichelis, should the Argentinean start at the back.

Sunderland will comfortably be second favourites to win at Wembley on Sunday, but they do have a few reasons for optimism.