Manchester City vs. Sunderland: 6 Things We Learned as City Drop More Points
Manchester City have one trophy left to play for, and they are in the unenviable position of needing to win out (or close to it) and get help from the remaining opponents of Liverpool and Chelsea to win the Premier League.
Theoretically, a visit from relegation-threatened Sunderland should have been just what City needed to get their desperate stretch drive off correctly.
This being City, though, Sky Blues supporters watched many stretches of this match with one eye or both eyes closed. You can only ever trust City to make things interesting, even when the task seems routine.
And in the end, City were remarkably fortunate to salvage a point from this match. Not that said point is apt to do them much good in the final analysis of this season, as suggested by manager Manuel Pellegrini in his post-match press conference.
"Maybe at this moment Liverpool and Chelsea have the better chance because of our position but we will keep fighting until the last day of the season," Pellegrini said.
Here are six things we learned from Manchester City 2-2 Sunderland.
City Continue to Find Joy in the Early Minutes of Their Matches
City's talent for getting on the scoreboard before many spectators are even seated does not make them a great side, but it does make them a great watch. You never know when they will strike.
Unquestionably, City's sterling record at the Etihad relates strongly to their ability to jump the opposition before they can acclimate themselves to City's pace.
Here are some notable City goals in the early stages of their home matches this season:
Add Sunderland to that list of victims. The Black Cats conceded in the second minute to Fernandinho. At that moment, it looked like the rout might be on.
But Sunderland stiffened considerably after that goal and outplayed City through much of the first half.
City Must Find Ways to Win Without Their Preferred XI
Manchester City's XI against Sunderland tacitly admitted that manager Manuel Pellegrini will not be able to finish this Premier League season without relying on some of his lesser talents.
Yaya Toure will be out for at least a couple of weeks. David Silva has been playing through niggling injuries for a month or so and did not even make the team sheet against Sunderland. Edin Dzeko did make the team sheet but did not start.
Seeing James Milner, Javi Garcia and Alvaro Negredo in the XI is not cause for concern, per se. They are all highly-paid and acclaimed football players.
But with City clinging to faint Premier League title hopes, new names in the XI do not inspire rampant confidence in Sky Blues supporters.
City's Strikers Continue to Underwhelm
There are reasons why Manchester City's previously robust strikers have gone limp in the past month. Those reasons do not settle City supporters' jitters about where the goals will come from.
Sergio Aguero has been out injured more often than he has played in 2014. Alvaro Negredo's form has been abominable in that same time interval. And Stevan Jovetic is not a factor this season.
Only Edin Dzeko, with four goals in his last five Premier League matches, has done his job for City's strike force in recent days.
Against Sunderland, City's first goal came from Fernandinho. That was a nice bonus from a player whose strengths are on the defensive end.
But it underscored the degree to which City inappropriately rely on midfield scoring in recent days. Yaya Toure is City's leading Premier League scorer, and right now he is not available.
The struggles of both Aguero and Negredo continued against Sunderland. Pellegrini had to use two of his precious substitutions, hauling them off for Jovetic and Dzeko, desperately trying to find the second goal that would presumably put the match away.
That second goal came, all right, but by the time City scored their second, they needed it just to draw. And Samir Nasri was the scorer, not a striker.
City's strikers must locate their lost scoring capabilities if the Sky Blues are to have any chance of saving their season and winning the league.
Connor Wickham started alone up top for the Black Cats at the Etihad. You would have been forgiven for not knowing his name before this match.
City fans surely know it now.
Wickham scored Sunderland's two goals and was far more effective and clinical in his finishing than any of the four expensive strikers City deployed.
Squawka made Wickham their man of the match at the Etihad after he scored with both his attempts on goal.
Entering the match, it was hard to imagine Sunderland staying with City from an offensive standpoint. If Adam Johnson is your leading scorer, your side's chances of surviving in the Premier League are pretty slim.
Wickham made it happen, though. His goals were daggers. If Sunderland somehow survive relegation, Black Cats supporters will remember Wickham's contribution.
City fans, conversely, will try hard to forget it.
City Are Not Particularly Scary Without David Silva
Manchester City spent much of their match with Sunderland looking like a side trying to pick a lock with a crowbar, a hammer and a blowtorch.
You can disable a lock that way, of course, but it's so much easier and cleaner if you just have the key.
So many times against Sunderland, City had the ball and eight or nine men batting it back and forth around the Sunderland penalty area, only to have the pass that would lead to a scoring chance never materialize.
David Silva is the man who makes those passes for City. Manager Manuel Pellegrini wants to believe that Samir Nasri can create those chances, but the drop-off from Silva to Nasri in that regard will bloody your nose.
City can only hope that Silva's absence is temporary. City have five matches left, and they will need Silva in all of them.
City's Hex Against Sunderland Continues
Manchester City beat Sunderland at Wembley Stadium for the League Cup, but Sunderland exacted plenty of damage on City's season.
City lost the first Premier League meeting between the sides at the Stadium of Light. The Sky Blues were very fortunate not to lose to the Black Cats again in this encounter. But the draw they earned was about as good as a loss.
After this Premier League season ends and a final accounting is possible, City will look at their league slate and see that they took one of a possible six points against Sunderland, a side that lingered at or near the bottom of the table for most of the season.
And it is not like City did not see this coming. The Sky Blues lost at the Stadium of Light in each of the prior three seasons, too.
Teams with legitimate title aspirations do not fritter about against outmanned sides the way City did with Sunderland this year.