Blunt Manchester City must rediscover their ruthless side with tough run of fixtures looming large following Sunderland loss

After succumbing to a sucker-punch at the Stadium of Light, league leaders must address attacking and defensive shortcomings before they face Liverpool and United
By Rob Stewart at the Stadium of Light

They say there are lies, damned lies and statistics, but the fact is the figures following Manchester City's dramatic defeat by Sunderland do not bode well for the Premier League leaders’ prospects of holding on to pole position in the title race.

In the cold light of day when the pandemonium on Wearside had died down, the notion that this was a missed opportunity for Roberto Mancini’s men following slip-ups by arch-rivals Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham over the weekend was underlined from an individual, collective and historic perspective.

For starters, in having 68.7 per cent possession of the ball at the Stadium of Light, City dominated proceedings far more than they did in the crushing wins over Tottenham and United earlier on in the season and yet failed their make their territorial advantage count.

A breakdown of the game emphasises the feeling that the killer touch has deserted City, who ended up having five shots on target and 15 shots off target and failed to exploit any of their 10 corners compared to Sunderland’s one.

And Edin Dzeko emerged as the chief culprit as he squandered six goalscoring opportunities which, according to Opta, was the joint-worst by a Premier League player this season, ranking him alongside team-mate Mario Balotelli, Luis Suarez, and Andy Carroll.

Mancini was philosophical afterwards about the wastefulness but was unforgiving over the defensive shortcomings that allowed South Korean striker Ji Dong-Won to take maximum advantage of a rare foray into City territory as Sunderland managed just six efforts at goal all afternoon and three of those were off target.

Grounded | Sunderland brought Manchester City down to earth with a bump

It is said that places like Sunderland are where titles are won and lost and if that is true then City should be concerned because while some head home with just a point, no prospective champions have lost on Wearside since United were beaten 2-1 in the 1996-97 season.

With their rivals faltering, the stage was set for City to make a statement of intent but Mancini’s men choked in a way that Sunderland fans will have enjoyed almost as much as they did when Newcastle United lost their way under Kevin Keegan in the 1995-96 season thanks to kamikaze defending and wasteful finishing.

City’s team bore the hallmarks of a team who could choke because they wasted a chance to prove they have the ruthlessness required to be champions after United’s shock defeat by Blackburn at Old Trafford.
Man City's upcoming fixtures
Jan 3
Liverpool (H)
Jan 8
Manchester United (H)
Jan 11
Liverpool (H) (League Cup)
Jan 16
Wigan (A)
Jan 22 Tottenham (H)
Jan 25
Liverpool (A) (League Cup)

Mancini’s team went all gung-ho at the end and lost out to a classic sucker-punch by a depleted Sunderland side. They lost their discipline as they threw bodies forward when a more experienced side would have realised that this was just not going to be their day, accepted a point and gone home with another step taken to the summit of English football.

That point could be crucial come the end of the season. Champions appreciate that and maybe City will learn from their mistakes.

And they will have to learn quickly because they could be made to pay for similar wastefulness with six tough fixtures lying ahead.

City will have to face a rejuvenated Liverpool in the league on Tuesday night and twice in a two-legged League Cup semi-final as well as taking on United in the FA Cup and taking on Tottenham and a spirited Wigan side.

With United and Spurs both out for revenge for the humiliation they suffered at City’s hands earlier this season, it could prove to be a treacherous start to 2012 for Mancini.

City went from being a team that was branded too conservative, too boring and too Italian just 12 months ago to enjoying a reputation as English’s football’s most entertaining side thanks mainly to Mario Balotelli, David Silva and Yaya Toure, who is due to head off to the Africa Cup of Nations next week.

But now City’s opponents have wised up to a team who rely on the mercurial Silva to provide inspiration and consequently the goals have dried up. The league leaders have now only scored more than once on one occasion in their last five outings.

One goal should be enough but ironically given last season’s criticisms of Mancini’s conservatism, City have proved capable of defensive lapses that are anathema to Serie A coaches and suddenly looked vulnerable when subjected to counterattacks.

No-one should be panicking at City following just their second Premier League defeat of the campaign but there are some uncomfortable truths that are bound to give their fellow title hopefuls cause for hope.

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