The sorry state of Sunderland

Fresh off the back of a convincing 2-0 away win against relegation contenders Hull City, Sunderland fans are sure to be wondering what could have been. Relegation was confirmed last week for the club, as Bournemouth sunk them at home – and other results conspired against them.

However, as the full time whistle sounded around the KCom Stadium, and the Hull City players trudged off in the knowledge that a Swansea victory could put them perilously close to the drop, the Sunderland contingent finally had something to celebrate.

It has been a long and gruelling season for the Mackems, with uncertainty surrounding their managers at every turn – and pitiful performances from players brought in by David Moyes to help steady the tide instead causing the most hideous crash – potentially the worst seen in the club’s entire history.

Sunderland have experienced 23 defeats this season – a crushing statistic when compared to previous seasons of mid-table safety. Moyes’ appointment in July was quietly lauded by fans and pundits alike, after he replaced Sam Allardyce after the FA came calling.

Now both Moyes’ and Allardyce’s regimes could well be short lived with Sunderland’s confirmed relegation, although the Scot is adamant he plans to see out the remainder of his four year contract.

After Sunderland’s defeat against Middlesborough, Moyes predicted his team would be in for a season-long relegation fight. The Scot’s prediction came after the second game. And the sorry truth is that he hasn’t been proved wrong.

The summer transfer window was a shambles for the club too. Moyes operated on a strict budget handed to him by owner Ellis Short – so stuck to what he knew best. In came recruitments from his old clubs.

Steven Pienaar was handed a contract after injury related problems saw him released from Everton. Former Everton players were signed by the club; forward Victor Anichebe and Joleon Lescott came in, albeit accusations that the veteran defender was out of shape.

Darron Gibson and Bryan Oviedo was brought in during the January window, marking another transfer period of misery for Sunderland.

And the uninspiring signings led to limp performances on the pitch. The start of the season saw the club fail to win any of their first ten games in the Premier League – and a fourth round defeat against Southampton saw them crash out of the EFL Cup prematurely as well.

The back end of the campaign has also been a miserable one – after the club were the first in the top division to have their relegation confirmed.

The highs of the season have been few and far between – but Jermain Defoe scoring 14 goals on limited service is almost certain to see him move on during the summer.

It is puzzling that his manager’s future remains uncertain. There has been no official support for Moyes coming from the higher levels of the club – but the Scot’s comments recently seem to suggest he is assured of his future in the Stadium of Light dug out.

So with the club condemned to scrapping in the Championship next season, the Sunderland rebuilding job is surely a massive one.

But fans will be concerned that it doesn’t seem to have begun yet.

 

 

 

City fail to break through as Manchester Derby ends in stalemate

A red card for Marouane Fellaini and disallowed finish from Gabriel Jesus saw the Manchester Derby end in a heated 0-0 draw.

The build-up to the game was fixated around both teams’ desire to secure European football next season, and the tight opening exchanges showed this.

The first real chance fell to Mourinho’s visitors, after Rashford demonstrated his pace down the right, before squaring it to Ander Herrera. The Spaniard’s whipped cross to the back post looked destined to find the head of the towering Fellaini, but Fernandinho nipped in to knock the ball behind.

City’s first opportunity was a glorious one, spurned by Sergio Aguero. Eric Bailly’s mix up with De Gea saw De Bruyne allowed time to whip in a dangerous ball. The usually reliable Aguero stole in at the front post, but could only strike the base of the bar after he lashed an effort goalwards.

This effort saw City take the ascendancy – which limited United to short-lived counter attacks, attempting to make use of Rashford’s electric pace.

It was the pace in United’s front line that led to arguably the most glaring chance of the first half.

Martial’s run and cross saw the best and worst brought out of much-maligned City goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo. The Chilean shot stopper reached high to palm out Martial’s cross, but he could only parry the ball downwards, straight to the feet of Mkhitaryan. The Armenian was only able to fire his effort straight at Bravo however, with the goalkeeper reacting quickly.

Good saves were forced from De Gea as the half wore on. Aguero’s curling effort looked destined for the far corner for a split second, but the Spaniard was able to comfortably pluck the ball out of the air. Kolarov’s vicious near-post strike also required United’s keeper to be at his best, as he flung himself downwards to smartly save.

United spurned another glorious opportunity on the stroke of half time. Rashford’s teasing delivery fell to the unmarked Herrera at the back post, but he could only guide his header wide when he had more time.

No changes at the interval saw the Citizens start the second half on the front foot.

The home side continued to turn the screw, with lightning wingers Sterling and Sane testing United’s backline. This penned the Red Devils’ wide men, Martial and Mkhitaryan in their own half, leaving United with few outlets during their occasional forays forward.

Otamendi’s goal bound header from a corner was well blocked by Eric Bailly, before an injury forced City into a change of goalkeeper. Claudio Bravo rose highest to collect a United delivery, but as he landed the Chilean noticeably winced, and pulled up with a muscle injury.

The break in play saw Caballero replacing him, and also Jesse Lingard introduced by Mourinho in the place of the ineffective Martial.

As the game entered the final ten minutes, the game took a dramatic twist.

Marouane Fellaini collected a deserved yellow card for a late challenge on Sergio Aguero, despite it being his first foul of the game. However, as Aguero wriggled away from the quick free kick, Fellaini appeared to make contact with the Argentinian again.

Despite referee Atkinson looking likely to give the towering Belgian the benefit of the doubt, Fellaini rashly threw his head forward into Aguero’s face, and rightly received his marching orders.

Mourinho responded by throwing on Timothy Fosu-Mensah, to preserve what could be a precious point for his side.

Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus was brought on by Pep Guardiola – his final roll of the dice. And in the dying stages of added time, it appeared to have paid off. Aguero’s sharp turn and drilled cross found the little Brazilian, who diverted the ball into the net and peeled away in ecstasy.

However, the linesman had raised his flag immediately for offside, meaning United left the home of their closest rivals with a battling point.

How important it will be in their race for the top four still remains to be seen.

 

 

 

Manchester Derby preview – the top four showdown

When the appointments of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were announced by their respective Manchester clubs, the decisions were lauded by both fans and pundits alike.

Many were tipping either of the Manchester teams to clinch the title this year, after the poor performances from the usual big teams allowed underdogs Leicester to spectacularly gain their maiden league success last season.

But it has panned out very differently to how many imagined. Manchester City are currently sitting precariously in fourth position, with their early ambitions to win the league quashed by Chelsea’s menacing form at the summit. Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge of the Citizens is to be trophy-less – a first in the Spaniard’s managerial career.

As for the Red Devils, they are languishing behind their ‘noisy neighbours’ in fifth place, albeit just one point adrift of a Champions League spot. Jose Mourinho’s first season back in England’s top flight, since his sacking by Chelsea, has seen his side embark on an impressive unbeaten streak – stretching back to a defeat at the hands of his old employers.

But United have struggled to break down teams at crucial times, which has seen them fail to pick up much-needed victories at Old Trafford. Frustrating draws against the likes of Everton, Stoke City and Burnley put an end to any languishing title hopes.

However, aside from the Premier League, the two Manchester teams have experienced contrasting degrees of success in other competitions.

Guardiola’s City reached the semi finals of the FA Cup, but were knocked out by Arsenal in extra time. The Citizens were also defeated by United in the EFL Cup, which eventually saw the Red Devils go on to win the trophy outright.

In Europe, Manchester United’s ambition of winning the Europa League is edging ever closer, with Mourinho’s side paired with Celta Vigo in the semi finals. The Portuguese tactician has said he will be prioritising this competition, as United struggle to gain much-needed European football next season.

Manchester City reached the Champions League round of 16 , where they were matched up against Monaco. With an in-form strike partnership of Columbian veteran Falcao and young star Mbappe, Monaco lived up to their free-scoring reputation as they knocked City out 6-6, progressing due to the away goals rule. However, Manchester City did demonstrate signs in their maiden European journey under Guardiola that they were gradually taking to his new style of football.

With both clubs arguably underachieving across the board thus far, both managers may need a lift to the end of their respective Premier League campaigns.

Manchester City’s hopes of finishing in the top four will edge closer to reality if they can beat their rivals, as they would open up a four point gap between them and fifth position. A win for City tomorrow, and Mourinho may need to begrudgingly concede that his side’s top four dream is over.

With tricky away ties at Tottenham and Arsenal still to come, Manchester United seem likely to continue rotating teams in the league and prioritise European football instead.

Let battle commence.