Usually, a team's place at the end of Boxing Day can indicate success, failure, improvements and items in need of repair. In Manchester City's case, all of these instances could be met with a mixture of results, questions and answers. Both positive and negative.
On one hand, Manchester City have been unstoppable at times, using pace and power with masterful technique to dismantle worthy opponents in convincing fashion. Conversely, The Citizens have also shown moments of complete incompetence --turning into a lackadaisical and debasing side, a quagmire of muck that appears on the club at the most inopportune time, this sort-of multiple personality has been a hinderance to the club for the greater part of the last four years.
Both polarities were never so apparent last Monday against Arsenal. City were baited and lulled into losing 1-2 in London after dominating possession and having moments where they could have taken advantage. It was as if City were in some sort of spell that left them powerless, and the result was losing ground on a table that they've spent plenty of time atop.
Now Manchester City sit alone in third, 4 points behind Arsenal and 6 behind a Cinderella-like Leicester squad. They're facing Sunderland, who dwell perilously close to relegation and need to gain as much momentum as possible before going into next Tuesday's
meeting with the league leaders.
Returning to the squad is Vincent Kompany, who has spent the greater part of the fall watching from the luxury boxes. Kompany has been sorely missed on the back line, as his leadership and organization of the defense has had a tremendous impact on Manchester City's defensive record. In fact, if City concede a goal against the Black Cats, it will be their longest run without a home clean sheet in league competition since 1991.
Fortunately this can be seen as a tune up before Tuesday -- and if played to expectation, it could turn out to be something like a training session. Sunderland have been completely inept this campaign and are losers of their last three league matches. The Black Cats have been providing their opponents with plenty of opportunities to score, as they've conceded 33 goals and 106 shots on target, both league highs.
There are a few bright spots for the Tyneside club, though. Former Blue Adam Johnson and Jermaine Defoe both enjoy scoring on Boxing Day, if you recall Johnsons goal in 2012 against City that saw Sunderland emerge victorious.
Still and all, this should be an easy match for Manchester City, more players are returning from injury (Kompany, Zabaleta and Fernando all trained this week) as the club returns from full strength. These two clubs played in cup competition earlier in the season and saw City erupt with four goals, and there's no reason why plenty of chances at repeating that score line shouldn't happen. The key will be in remaining injury free and keeping discipline as always, and even with the looming talks of new leadership coming into the club, there's absolutely no excuse for Manuel Pellegrini to be outclassed on Boxing Day against this club.
For more on the history between City and Sunderland, click here