Sunderland legend Kevin Ball assesses the Manchester City ranks ahead their trip to the Stadium of Light on Sunday.
Injured: Kolarov (knock), Kompany (leg), Jesus (foot), Gundogan (knee).
A lot’s been made of Manchester City’s goalkeeper dilemma following the exit of Joe Hart, with Pep Guardiola currently switching between summer recruits Claudio Bravo and often back-up stopper Willy Caballero. After Bravo started midweek against Huddersfield Town, it’s likely that Caballero will start against Sunderland. The 35-year-old returned to PL duty on February 1 and kept a clean sheet before extending his top-flight 100% record, which included three appearances back in August, against Swansea City and Bournemouth. He has good experience and, in my opinion, provides a safe pair of hands at the back as he’s just as happy to go long, as short.
Yaya Toure is back – and he’s back in more ways than one. The midfielder was out in the cold during the early stages of the season, but he’s stormed back to his best since returning to the fold and making amends with Guardiola. His performances have given City a real boost but they’ve come from a deeper position than we’re used to seeing him, with Guardiola opting to field Toure at the base of midfield – a position he made his own during his time at Barcelona. That said, his power and athleticism means he’s still a threat and when he bombs into the final third, he must be tracked down and stopped.
Kevin De Bruyne
David Silva was once the main supply line for Manchester City’s attack but that mantle has now been passed to Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian scored 16 goals last season and he’s registered just five during the current campaign, but his impact has arguably been greater. Only Christian Eriksen (10) has contributed more assists than De Bruyne’s nine and the Man City man also ranks second in the division when it comes to through balls, while only two top-flight players have put more crosses into the mix. He’s the architect within City’s ranks and if Sunderland hope to win a clean sheet will be key, so they must stop the Citizens at the source – and that source is De Bruyne.
Leroy Sane is a player who is going to be at the very top level for a very long time. I love watching him play because he’s a real speed demon and incredibly direct, but he also has a trick up his sleeve making him an absolute nightmare for defenders. At 21 most players are still learning their trade, but Sane is accomplished at the top level and last week against Monaco he was superb, posting a 90% pass accuracy, completing four take-ons, creating a goal and, of course, scoring one of his own. Another goal against Huddersfield took his tally to five goals in 21 appearances but all of those have come in the last nine games, so there’s plenty more to come now’s he’s found his feet in the PL.
The supporting cast
Sane isn’t the only young gun making a difference at Manchester City and that’s perhaps what makes them such an intriguing side. Raheem Sterling has really impressed me this season and his overall game has matured; he’s much better on the ball and uses it better, and he tracks back when needed. Another is Kelechi Iheanacho, who was on the scoresheet against Huddersfield, and with Gabriel Jesus – another superb talent – sidelined he could play a part this weekend. Sterling has nine goals this season and has seven, and there will be plenty more to come.