The Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City begins with the visit of Sunderland to the Etihad Stadium this weekend (5.30pm Saturday, BT Sport 1).
Man City underachieved last season by finishing fourth, with Manuel Pellegrini’s side only securing Champions League football with a victory over Swansea City on the final day of the season. Guardiola (pictured) will have his sights set a lot higher than that ahead of the new campaign’s big kick-off, with the club’s supporters hoping the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss can win the seventh league title of his managerial career this term. Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane, Nolito, John Stones and Oleksandr Zinchenko have all been brought in to help the four-time English champions try to realise that objective. City arguably already had the strongest squad in the division last season, and their work in the transfer market this summer has only added further depth to a group of players that must be the envy of the majority of coaches across the world.
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Sunderland’s pre-season preparations were disrupted by the Football Association’s decision to hire Sam Allardyce as Roy Hodgson’s successor as England manager. The Black Cats moved quickly to appoint David Moyes as their next boss, but they could still start the campaign slowly after being forced to play catch-up. Sunderland have also made only one permanent signing at the time of writing, with centre-back Papy Djilobodji joining from Chelsea, and will have to rely on the same group that only narrowly avoided relegation to the second tier last time out – at least for Saturday’s trip to the Etihad.
Finishing outside the bottom three will again be the target for Sunderland this year, although Moyes will hope to turn them into a top-half outfit in the coming years.
Man City will be without Gundogan (knee) and Vincent Kompany (thigh) for Guardiola’s first competitive game at the helm, while Stones could start on the bench after only officially joining the club on Tuesday. City have been lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in pre-season and will employ the same shape on Saturday, with Nolito, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane all competing for the three slots behind lone centre-forward Sergio Aguero. Fernandinho is a certain starter in the centre of midfield, with Yaya Toure, Fabian Delph and Fernando battling it out for a place alongside the Brazilian.
Sunderland may be unable to call upon the services of Jermain Defoe (thigh), Billy Jones (hip) and Jan Kirchhoff (hamstring), while Seb Larsson could also miss out with a knock. All four players are hoping to be passed fit in time, although centre-back Lamine Kone is unlikely to play as he closes in on a transfer to Everton. Djilobodji should start in the heart of the backline in Kone’s place, with Younes Kaboul the favourite to partner him, while striker Jermain Defoe will have to make the most of any opportunities that come his way. Moyes’ men will focus on keeping things tight at the back and attempting to hit Man City on the counter, but they may struggle to cope if the home side get into their rhythm quickly.
Our Preview’s Man City v Sunderland Betting Tips
It is very difficult for this preview to look past a rather comfortable Manchester City triumph on Saturday. Indeed the bookies price them at 1/4 to win this, with Sunderland at 14/1 and the draw typically 11/2. Guardiola will be determined to get his tenure off to the perfect start and the hosts will surely have too much quality for David Moyes’ charges.
The odds available on a 3-0 City victory makes that betting tip look particularly tempting. Aguero, the most clinical striker in the division who is sure to excel under the tutelage of Guardiola, is an obvious but sensible choice for the game’s first goalscorer.