Sunderland 1-0 City: Familiar issues causing concern

Stu Forster

It is one of lifes strange quirks how history has a uncanny habit of repeating itself. For the third year in succession City headed up to the North-East around this time of year and for the third year in succession City came away empty-handed; frustrated at being on the wrong end of a 1-0 defeat. We can safely file 'Sunderland away' along with trips to the Britannia and Goodison Park as ones likely to trip City up. But it isn't solely the outcome of certain games that is taking on an uncomfortably familiar feel, but the performances themselves that are beginning to repeat - and not in the manner hoped from a City perspective.

A point of interest from today's game - which was something noticed during the win over Reading - was that whilst there is no lack of width in City's play, it is the way the width is being utilised that may be an issue. City are retaining plenty of possession and territorial advantage but too often the wide play is laboured and ultimately comes back inside; the difficulty here is that City are lacking a directness to pierce defences that stifles them in and around the box, as this graphic of City's final third play shows:

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Today's results see United restore their seven point lead at the top of the table and whilst they have issues in terms of consistently falling behind and should cool over the second half of the season it is a lead that whilst not being insurmountable is certainly sizeable and City's total of 39 points is six less than the corresponding point last year, with the rolling points per game (PPG) total showing a stark contrast with last season, whereas we can see United over the past ten games are apace with 2011/12. Some comfort for City though is that from corresponding fixtures (rather than corresponding stage) last season as measured by Simon Gleave at Infostrada they are two points back whilst United themselves are just a point up on last years total.

Defeats hurt of course but what has hurt City more over the first half of the season are draws. Through 19 games City have finished all square on six occasions and dropping points in this manner is denting their title hopes. They are certainly not suffering in terms of getting shots on goal but are being handicapped by a low scoring % and it is interesting that their strikers have hit the net just once between them in the past four games. Too often they are not getting early goal, as a consequence City are spending far too much time drawing games whereas last season they were getting up early and putting games away. Not so this time around and whilst this should positively regress over the remainder of the season is it enough to claw back the gap?

With Robin Van Persie hitting his 13th goal of the season today it is worth highlighting quite how much of an impact he is having on the title race this season. Given the number of options at Mancini's disposal it felt that a move for the Dutchman was a luxury and that there was no obvious fit for him in City's front line. We can see though that had he been lining up in blue, not red, this season that the gap would likely be closer and City's deficit as the January window begins to creak open may see Mancini knocking on one or two doors. He has certainly been vocal about missing out on his top targets (which appear to be Van Persie and Eden Hazard) and the way the first half of the season has shaped up it is a) easy to see why Mancini was so keen and b) how evident it is that City could do with them. The signings City did land felt like Plan B moves, with the performances of certain additions - perhaps uncharitably - being some way off that. Does Mancini get backed at the transfer window? If so, does he need to sell first? Rumours of Mancini's future will continue to swirl regardless but how, and indeed if, he is backed in January may well provide a signal of the clubs long term intent.

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