Graeme Anderson’s big-match verdict: Plenty to lose ... but plenty to gain too from tough awayday

Ji Dong-won.
Ji Dong-won.
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THERE’S a suggestion Sunderland have nothing to lose this weekend when they take on a Manchester City side invincible at the Etihad Stadium this season, simply because there’ll be no pressure or expectation on Martin O’Neill’s men.

It’s muddled thinking.

Firstly, Sunderland can lose the Premier League point they start the game with – all games beginning as a draw at kick-off!

Secondly, they could lose their confidence, if they are hammered.

And thirdly, they could lose their pride if they’re drubbed by a team who are becoming increasingly desperate to haul back Man United and reclaim top spot.

No one should fool themselves either that City are not more than capable of handing out said drubbing.

Over the course of October and November they notched up a nine-game winning sequence, home and away, which saw them score 33 goals at an average of 3.6 goals per game.

That sequence included knocking six past Man United and five past Wolves in consecutive games and although City have stuttered in recent weeks, you wouldn’t bet against them returning to the goal standard this weekend.

They’ll certainly be highly motivated – and not just by their pursuit of the title.

They won’t have forgotten their damaging 1-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light on New Year’s Day which really hit their momentum.

It all means Sunderland have it all do in this game against a City side that, astonishingly, have still to drop a point at home this season – 15 games played; 15 games won.

Sunderland’s best bet on Saturday is to focus on defensive solidity, first, second and last.

Whether they will be buoyed by the return of any of their three, currently crocked former Manchester United players, remains to be seen.

But Kieran Richardson, John O’Shea and Wes Brown would certainly add strength to a back four that were sorely tested by Everton. The smart money is on it being an unchanged back four this Saturday, with Martin O’Neill’s options limited.

And that brings us to the area where the game will be lost or won – midfield.

Sunderland are likely to string five across the middle and Martin O’Neill’s choice seems to be less about whether or not he plays five in midfield, as so much which five?

He could play Sessegnon on his own up front and fill the midfield with terriers Lee Cattermole, Craig Gardner and Jack Colback, looking for creativity on the left flank from McClean and a dead-ball threat from Seb Lasson on the right.

The manager is aware though that height can be an issue and might prefer to have 6ft 3in Nicklas Bendtner in the side.

That would mean dropping Sesegnon back to a link-role between attack and midfield, seeing as it is hard to imagine the Benin international not making it into the starting 11.

Whatever the Sunderland manager decides to do though, he will know that on top of raising his players after the disappointment of losing to Everton, he’ll also need them to raise their game if they are to compete with a super-rich side packed with world talent.

I think what we can expect from Sunderland though is a True Grit performance, especially from the likes of Cattermole, Colback and Bardsley in a fixture where an honourable defeat might be the height of the Black Cats hopes realistically.

Surely Sunderland can’t do the double over Manchester City? Can they?

VERDICT: Home win. Don’t expect lightning to strike twice.