MARTIN O’Neill says the rise of Manchester City is changing the landscape of the Premier League and Roberto Mancini’s men are now undoubtedly title contenders.
The Sunderland boss says the continuing progress of the boys in blue is probably the biggest change in the top flight in his 15-month absence from the game.
“When I was at Aston Villa as manager, Man City were still very much a work in progress,” he said.
“They were improving all the time, but they were still in the process of building.
“Now, though, they are much closer to the finished product.
“Just over a year ago they were emerging as real Champions League contenders, but now they are at the level of title contenders.
“They’ve qualified for the Champions League now, they’ve won a trophy in the FA Cup and this season they are top of the league, so they really are a quality side.
“I had James Milner and Gareth Barry at Aston Villa and for them to be at Man City now and not even be what you would call marquee players, that says it all.”
O’Neill knows Sunderland have their work cut out this weekend containing a side which has lost only one league game all season and only failed to score once in the league this season – their last outing, when they drew with West Brom.
“I’m not reading anything into the West Brom result, that’s completely irrelevant as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “West Brom managed to get a draw and a clean sheet and credit to them.
“But it’s not often City will fail to score this season, given the attacking options they have, so it would be foolhardy to read anything into that.
“We know we have our work cut out for us over the 90 minutes on Sunday, but we have to give it our best shot, like we have in all our games so far and see where it takes us.
“The crowd will undoubtedly have an influence.
“They were terrific on Boxing Day against Everton and in my first match against Blackburn Rovers and we’ll need more of the same on New Year’s Day.
“But I’m sure they won’t need any encouragement – it’s a great fixture.
“We’ve got the league leaders coming to the Stadium of Light on New Year’s Day and everyone connected with the club – players and supporters – have to do their best for Sunderland.”