Date: 3rd March 2017 at 10:21am
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Article written by VMC member Skoorb.

After two consecutive five goal feasts at the Etihad Pep and his merry men once again head over the Pennines but this time they are headed for the North East, the Stadium of Light and the team managed by the man formerly known as ‘The Chosen One’ by the ‘faithful’ at the Swamp. With signs that City’s players are ‘getting’ what Pep wants and benefiting from their coach’s improved knowledge of his squad’s capabilities as well as his increasing experience of what the Premier League is about, David Moyes and his team might well be having some sleepless nights in the run up to the game.

The postponement of the Manchester derby last weekend due to the League Cup Final, City may go into this late kick off on Sunday once again out of the Champions League places. That will depend upon the outcome of the clash between Liverpool and Arsenal on Saturday evening. A draw between those two would do nicely thank you. However I am pretty sure that Pep will be unconcerned with such matters as he gets his side to focus purely on what matters they can affect at the start of a critical run of games for his club. Five matches inside fourteen days in three competitions starting with Sunderland and culminating on 19th March with the home tie against Liverpool will provide a stern test of the depth and resilience of Pep`s squad. It could well determine how successful his first season in charge of the club is measured. Forget the blistering start to the campaign, move on from the player scapegoating and the humbling defeats at Leicester and Everton…by 6.45pm on the evening of Sunday 19th March if Pep’s players can deliver they could be in the quarter finals of the Champions League, the semi-finals of the FA Cup, on course to qualify for European football`s elite competition for the seventh consecutive season and still in with a faint whiff of the Premier League title…

Those are the prizes that are in front of this side at the moment and the achievement of these goals will require the sort of focus and verve that we have seen in abundance against Monaco and Huddersfield. Pep needs to keep his players focused upon the next game and let the rest of the world take care of itself – a little bit of tunnel vision right now could go a long way.

A rejuvenated Sergio Aguero rightly drew praise from his coach after his stellar performance against David Wagner’s Terriers. Describing it as the best that he had ever seen Sergio play one can only hope that this encourages similar performances from City’s talented talismanic striker. The arrival of Gabriel Jesus and the impact he had prior to his injury started the inevitable football rumour-fest beloved by hacks as everyone and their dog voiced their opinion on ‘where this leaves Sergio Aguero’.

Seemingly benched for an indefinite period Aguero was effectively handed an opportunity to show what he is made of and he has not disappointed. Initially rusty from lack of game time his buzzing performance last Wednesday will have the Sunderland back four considering the sudden onset of mystery ailments which mean they might have to miss facing City’s ‘man on a mission’. We could well be witnessing just what makes Guardiola one of the most coveted coaches in the world – an ability to motivate and get the best out of an already excellent player, challenging him to work harder, to do more for the team, to improve and benefit from the cohesion that this brings as it delivers improved performances by the whole team. Aside from his work rate last Wednesday I am pretty sure that the Pep Guardiola’s favourite moment within Aguero’s performance was his decision to square the ball to his fellow countryman Pablo Zabaleta to secure a simple tap in for City’s third goal rather than opt to thrash the ball in from an acute angle after his initial shot rebounded from the keeper. THAT will have got Pep’s juices flowing and I rather believe that Sergio’s exultant knee sliding reaction afterwards meant that HE knew this as well. One can only hope that these two have moved closer towards a mutual meeting of minds and understanding because no one wants to see Sergio leave Manchester City FC and together with Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Leroy SanĂ© he can continue to drive the club to never seen heights.

In team news doubts remain over Kolarov and Kompany – we await Pep’s press conference for those two otherwise Pep appears to have a fully fit squad (excepting long term absentees Gundogan and Jesus). David Moyes has question marks over Jones, Mannone, Pienaar and Rodwell and I believe that Jason Denayer will be ineligible to feature against his loaning club but despite scouring the inter web I can find nothing on this subject. McNair, Anicebe, Watmore and serial hatchet man Lee Catermole are all sidelined through injury.

For a long time Sunderland seemed to have the ‘sign’ over Manchester City notching up a series of ‘unlikely’ victories in added time through offside goals or after fouls in the build-up. This ‘bogey team’ mantle appears to have passed on to their North East neighbours Middlesbrough given that the Black Cats have lost their last six matches against City conceding 18 goals in the process. We can only hope that a buoyant City squad, refreshed after their warm weather trip to Adu Dhabi in between two scintillating performances, can deliver once again on the banks of the River Wear. Boasting 1-4 victories on their last two visits to this part of the North East, Pep will be asking for more of the same as he unleashes the mercurial talents of Leroy SanĂ© whose burgeoning confidence is lighting up the league, a reinvigorated Raheem Sterling who is shoving the disgraceful and unwarranted booing of his detractors back into places where the sun doesn’t shine and a refreshed and determined Sergio Aguero who seems intent on proving a point to himself as much as his coach. Ably supported by the silky talents of David Silva – who is once again relishing the opportunity to deliver his trademark pinpoint, eye-of-the-needle passing to willing runners – and we have a City attack seems to be firing on all cylinders and which is getting City fans off their seats when they pour forward. Sort out the defence and we will have one heck of a team.

When Pep Guardiola took over at Barcelona he warned their fans to ‘fasten your seat belts because we are going for a ride’ in preparation for the sort of football which became renowned across the world. He used a similar line when he took over at Manchester City and from what we have witnessed recently we could be on the verge of lift off. He never predicted it was going to be easy and he has seen some bumpy times in a league which has challenged his coaching abilities and had City fans watching through their fingers, but as he has gained in experience of his squad and his new environment he has shown that he can get his team to deliver the sort of football which has you rising from your seat in anticipation. Bring it on!

Here’s hoping for another dose of that excitement on Wearside on Sunday afternoon.

Sunderland recent form (all comps) since mid-December:

P12 W2 D3 L7 F10 A22

Last game at the Stadium of Light (11th Feb) – Sunderland 0 Southampton 4

They last played on 25th February losing 2-0 away to Everton

Manchester City recent form (all comps) since mid-December:

P14 W10 D2 L2 F35 A14

Currently 8 games undefeated in all competitions.

Come On City!!!

 
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