Manchester City Preview - Home, January 1
SUNDERLAND START 2012 in the hardest possible fashion with league-leaders Manchester City visiting the Stadium of Light.
Roberto Mancini's side lead the Barclays Premier League at the time of writing on goal difference, but could find themselves ousted for the first time in weeks by New Year's Day if rivals Manchester United beat beat Blackburn Rovers the day before.
On paper, the Citizens look to all intense and purpose, Champions-elect. A world-class manager and playing squad with the capacity to go out and strengthen again in January, it's all looking rosy for the 'nosy neighbors'.
However, Mancini will be robbed of the services of the Toure brothers, Kolo and Yaya, who will both head off to the African Cup of Nations. Whilst former Arsenal defender Kolo has scarcely featured in the league, ex-Barca midfielder Yaya will be missed.
The leggy midfielder, 28, has been key to City's success since his move from the Camp Nou in 2010, scoring the winner in last season's F.A Cup final win over Stoke City.
Toure made his mark in Europe with Greek giants Olympiakos before moving to Spain in an £8.1m move. A real 'footballing footballer', comfy on the ball, intelligent off it and with the pace and power to cause havoc, Toure has certainly lived up to his £24m billing.
Up front, new-boy Sergio Aguero is another who has impressed since moving to England. 'Super Kun' also made his name in Spain with Atletico Madrid.
The 23 year-old forward has 13 league goals in his first 16 league games for the club having previously grabbed an equally impressive 75 in 149 for Atleti during a five-year association. The Argentinian forward is also the son-in-law of the Albiceleste legend, Diego Maradona.
Amongst all these supremely-talented exotic names remain a strong English core though, the likes of Joe Hart, Micah Richards, James Milner, Adam Johnson and in particular, Gareth Barry all enjoy varying levels of firs-team involvement at the Etihad Stadium.
Barry has enjoyed something of a renaissance this season having suffered a real ego blow at the 2010 World Cup with England. Half-fit, but crucial to Fabio Capello's plans, Barry battled through manfully despite being shown up horrendously for pace in the second-round defeat by Germany.
However, there is a reason that Mancini continues to pick the former Aston Villa trainee. In the strangest way, Barry is very European in his style, using the ball intelligently, dictating the play and still helping to screen the back four.
Mancini will be without another Englishman, the oft-injured Owen Hargreaves only. Martin O'Neill and Sunderland are without defenders Michael Turner, Titus Bramble and Phil Bardsley. Matt Kilgallon could be in line for a rare start as a result.
Ahmed Elmohamady and Kieran Richardson could fill in at full-back.Probable Teams:
Sunderland: Westwood; O'Shea, Brown, Kilgallon, Richardson; Larsson, Cattermole (c), Colback, Sessegnon; Wickham & Bendtner.
Manchester City: Hart; Richards, Kompany (c), Lescott, Clichy; Toure.Y, Barry; Silva, Aguero, Johnson; Balotelli.