Manchester City beat Sunderland 3-0 at the Emirates to potentially kick-start their title defence. The Premier League champions have been disappointing in these opening weeks of the season and have been criticised for being complacent and committing too many defensive errors. However, a fifth-minute Aleksandar Kolarov goal and strikes by Sergio Aguero and James Milner in the second half were more than enough to see off a Sunderland side that had little chance of any other result.
More importantly, as Mancini pointed out after the game, the fact City had kept a clean sheet for the first time this season was a huge plus point, ahead of a trip to Ajax in a make-or-break Champions League game.
The champions started with a number of changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Dortmund in their previous game, with Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott coming in for Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic at the back. Gareth Barry and James Milner slotted into midfield, with Yaya Toure, in the absence of Samir Nasri, moving further up field. It was a completely different side up front as well, with Aguero starting from the bench and Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez leading the line.
Sunderland fielded Adam Johnson, signed from City in the summer, but the young England midfielder was unable to make any impression on the game. The key for the visitors was striker Steven Fletcher, who has scored all their goals this season (five). They were also able to welcome back Spanish defender Carlos Cuellar for this game.
The game itself was all about City and Kolarov's fifth-minute goal - a late tackle on Tevez that earned Cuellar a yellow card - was a superb free-kick at Simon Mignolet's near post. The hosts continued to press forward for a quick second and Balotelli should have maybe scored that a little later. Unfortunately the Italian was hustled off the ball. Tevez too was full of running and City had a golden opportunity to score the second when a deflected Tevez strike fell to Pablo Zabaleta. However, the right back was under pressure from the defence and could only hit it straight at Mignolet.
Spanish playmaker David Silva was also involved in the attack, as were midfielders Barry and Toure. In fact, the play for the first half was controlled entirely by City, leaving the dangerous Fletcher isolated at the other end of the field.
The second half began in much the same vein, with Toure drawing a fine save out of Mignolet. However, the second goal was still not available and Sunderland began to believe they could just sneak a goal of their own. Fletcher and Johnson began combining well and it required an offside call and a fine late tackle by Kolarov to deny the pair.
The second goal finally game when Aguero, who had only just come on for Balotelli, raced clear of the back line to shoot home on the hour mark. At 2-0 up, the game was certainly over for Sunderland but Mancini's side wanted to be absolutely clear of the result and continued to press, with Tevez, Silva, Barry and Richards all testing the Black Cats' defence. The third and final goal, finally arrived when a deflected shot by Milner beat Mignolet.
Manchester City now have 15 points from seven games and are just one point behind early leaders Chelsea. The champions will next play West Brom at the Hawthorns on 20 October before travelling to Amsterdam for a Champions League group stage match against Ajax on 24 October.
Sunderland, meanwhile, remain in 13th in the league, with seven points from six games. Martin O'Neill's side will now host Newcastle United on 21 October.
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