Rejoice! It’s over! The curse ended in spectacular fashion, and not even the traditional comedy goal conceded could change the outcome of this match. By the end it was men against boys as City coasted over the line without even needing any strikers on the pitch.
The big decision on this cold, cold night was who would partner Martin Demichelis in the centre of defence. In the end, perhaps there was no decision to make for Manuel Pellegrini, as not choosing the one available central defender (Nastastic is injured by the way) would have been a blatant admission of Boyata’s uselessness, not that Pellegrini thinks that anyway. In many respects, he had to start.
Initially, it went the way of previous seasons, a depressing inevitability about it all. Having escaped one scare when Rodwell had two shots blocked by Zabaleta when he should have scored, the offside trap sprung easily past Demichelis, it wasn’t long before City were behind.
Was Zabaleta to blame? Hard to say no, using his wrong foot to try and clear the ball, creating a freak deflection off Wickham and into the net. Perhaps he was scared of using his right foot and clearing for a corner/throw-in because of the chance of fouling Wickham. Add in a slip as he went for the ball, and the scene was set for another Sunderland 1-0 lead.
With Sunderland’s men behind the ball, the fear was that this score-line would remain, but thankfully there was a different story to tell this time around. It took just one moment of supreme brilliance (well two, if truth be told) from Aguero and a shot that almost sent the net into the crowd. I don’t think you could blame the keeper for being beaten at his near post this time.
City dominated thereafter, bar one scare on the stroke of half-time from a corner, with a lame handball appeal thrown in for good measure. The second goal was preceded by 30 passes, before a sublime flick from Aguero after a precise, fizzed pass from Toure, found Jovetic who nut-megged Agent Pantilimon.
The second half followed a similar pattern. A well-needed assist for Nasri saw a delightful through ball for Zabaleta and a magnificent chip over Pantilimon. City eased off after that, allowing Sunderland too much of the ball. It didn’t matter in the end as a lovely Milner cross found the predatory Aguero who swept in the ball off the post and the rout was complete. City strolled after that, taking Aguero off to save him for the weekend and even brought on a YOUTH PLAYER! OMG!
(seriously, it was good to see him get on)
So City have their mojo back. What struck me was the work-rate of all the team. The Sunderland players had no time to settle and thus couldn’t create chances in open play after their initial surge. Not one player shirked their duties. Boyata, praised by Pellegrini post-match was fine, though the protection afforded to him by his teammates and their raised performances meant he wasn’t unduly tested. Early nerves soon dissipated and he did his job. Aguero was, well Aguero, the finest striker I’ve ever seen wearing the blue of Manchester City. Please don’t get injured anytime soon, please.
And all that without Kompany or Silva. There is better to come hopefully.
Jovetic too, a surprise inclusion (I expected the grit of Milner to be utilised against Sunderland) played well and it was pleasing to see him grab another goal. Demichelis did what I expected, and took control of the defence and marshalled it calmly. Zabaleta improved as the minutes rolled on, Clichy is a man re-born and Navas put in numerous excellent crosses that were sadly not seized upon by static teammates. There were no weak links with Nasri dominant, Yaya imperious once more (making his impending departure to Africa a big deal again) and Fernandinho has again secured his place in the first team. The only worry is the rumour that Jovetic went off injured, leaving us very short up front if so.
The big news of the day though was of course the release of City’s annual financial report. Naturally the release of the report, a blatant attempt to mask the anticipated impending annual defeat at Sunderland, led to a banter-fest on social media. One guy was reduced to speculating how City had fiddled the figures by selling a million shirts to Qataris. Poor soul.
So 347m revenue, breaking the £300m barrier. Commercial revenue up 16% to £165.8m, TV up 51% to £133.2m, match day revenue up 20% to £47.5m. A bottom line loss of £23m which includes the £16m fine from UEFA over FFP, so very small. Profit almost definite next time, nailed on in fact. Wage costs have stabilised and the wage-turnover ratio is now 56%, compared to 86% in 2013 (United’s is just under 50%, for the record).
Net assets are valued at more than £572m and City continue to operate with zero financial debt. City are the 1st club to have seven players picked for the England U16 team in a single season. The Academy has grown to 185 players across all years, 75% of which are from the Greater Manchester area. It’s fair to say the future is bright, and City don’t even have the biggest wage bill anymore, that honour falling to the club that have spunked a quarter of a billion pounds in a desperate attempt to finish in the top four this season. And there’s me thinking that any player would gladly play for United for free.