Three points from top, Manchester City travel up to Wearside to face Sunderland, who are scratching and clawing in a fight to get from out of the bottom of the league's table. In a reverse fixture from Boxing Day, City are fresh from a convincing victory at the weekend to Aston Villa, the only club that is below Sunderland in the table. Now unbeaten in their last six matches, the Blues are looking to go atop the table and improve on their shaky away form in the league.
Yesterday's events have overshadowed the reality that there are actually games to play for the remainder of the season -- But one can assume that this announcement has either loosened the pressure by citing the elephant in the room, or increased the pressure for players to perform with an opportunity to play for Pep Guardiola. Nevertheless City still remain in a potential 29 matches, and existing manager Manuel Pellegrini will undoubtedly be auditioning for other big clubs. Pellegrini has helped dissolve the thorn on the side of Manchester City that Sunderland once was, and likely will put out another aggressive team before the club's big test against Leicester City on Saturday.
In the Boxing Day match, City disposed of Sunderland 4-1 with a masterful performance from Kevin De Bruyne who scored once and provided two assists. Of course, with De Bruyne out it means that others will step in his place. Most notably Fabian Delph, who has been pushing at the heels of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho for permanent time in the starting line up. Pellegrini has been toying with Yaya at the 10, but with David Silva at his disposal, it remains to be seen if he will deploy Toure further back to help solidify possession.
Sunderland sit in 19th place where they have had fairly decent form over their last five matches, their last of which was a draw to Bournemouth. Jermaine Defoe and Adam Johnson remain a threat at the top of the pitch and there's some speculation that "Big" Sam Allardyce could put his new signing Whabi Khazri on display. Khazri had supplied five goals and seven assists this season with Bordeaux, so his creativity in the midfield could serve useful for the Black Cats, who'd seen a lack of production from the center of the park this season.
City have their foot on the gas and with a very important row of games coming up need to start February will good momentum. With Leicester, Spurs, Moscow, Liverpool and Chelsea all on the docket, it's imperative that performances like todays be convincing and clinical. Look for City to dispatch of Sunderland and switch the conversation back to the current season rather than next.
Sunderland AFC vs. Manchester City FC
Stadium of Light, Sunderland UK
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Manchester City Form: WWDWD
Sunderland Form: WLWLD