Failure is not an option when Manchester City look to get their Premier League campaign back on track against Sunderland, but the Black Cats of Martin O’Neil are in a bullish and buoyant mood.
With Manchester United hosting the bottom of the table Blackburn Rovers on New Year’s Eve, Manchester City could be knocked off the top of the table for the first time this season. Roberto Mancini's side will likely be three points behind Manchester United come their 1st of January kick-off as they are currently tied on points (45) and everyone is expecting Blackburn to suffer a heavy defeat at the hands of the reigning champions.
The only way is up (and down)
Sunderland were in danger of joining Blackburn in the relegation zone but their owners acted swiftly, removing Steve Bruce, who became the first casualty in the Premier League managerial sack race, and replaced him with the steady hand of Martin O'Neill. O'Neill's tenure as manager is only four games old but he has already amassed seven points with wins against QPR and Blackburn.
Sunderland are now 1/50 to avoid relegation and 5/4 to record a top ten finish. (You might want to put an early bet on Martin O’Neil to be named manager of the year at 16/1).
City had until recently looked to be coasting to a momentous league-winning season but while they have only been defeated once (away to Chelsea) the gap at the top of the table was closed by Manchester United and City have dropped five points in their last four games (the same as Sunderland). That “poor” run is bad news for City but good news for neutrals as we are now looking at a very close two horse race in the Premier League.
City are currently at 4/5 to win the league, United are 5/4 and Spurs the closest outside bet at 16/1. I expect City (despite failing to score for the first time all season against West Bromwich Albion in their last match) to return to their goal scoring ways and we know they can score a hatful against anyone (when the mood takes them). A resounding win would be the best way to start the New Year for Manchester City, and I expect them to go all out to achieve it.
Talking the talk
Sunderland’s Jack Colback reckons there will be an upset on New Year’s Day. "It's a tough one, obviously, but we'll come into the game with a lot of confidence," the midfielder told the club's official website. "There's no reason why we can't get something if we play well and keep things solid at the back.” His teammate defender John O’Shea agrees that City shouldn’t be feared, "We know it's going to be tough but we have to go into the game with confidence. The way we’re performing at the minute, we shouldn't be scared of anyone."
Still, the bookies have an away win at 8/15 while a Sunderland win is at 11/2. If you want to win big, back a 2-1 victory to the home side at 16/1, or you can really start the New Year on a high by backing Sunderland to win 3-0 at 125/1.
I feel that while Sunderland have improved under O'Neil they are not even close to City in terms of skill. Combine that with a necessity to win (that will banish any thoughts of complacency) and you’re looking at a significant away win. Check out 3-0 to Man City (the score they beat Stoke by) at 10/1 or 5-0 (a score made so popular by Manchester United recently) at 40/1 or even a fantasy football 7-1 at 250/1. The best result for Sunderland that I’d even consider backing would be a close win, 1-0 to the home side is at 14/1 in the odds but I think the day will be City’s.
Roberto Mancini reckons the Premier League title will be decided by the result of the next Manchester derby in April, and claimed, “It will be decided with the game at home against United.” He may be right but first they must beat Sunderland.
Prediction: City’s class will shine with a big win; 4-1 at 22/1.