Manchester City 2-2 Sunderland: Two Wickham goals, late Nasri equalizer leave sides even (video)

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A late goal from Samir Nasri gave Manchester City a point from a match Connor Wickham had temporarily stolen, but after the teams’ 2-2 draw at Etihad Stadium, Sunderland had dealt the Citizens a major blow in their title pursuit. Still six points behind league-leading Liverpool, Manchester City failed to take advantage of one of their two games in hand, with their remaining advantage from their fewer games played sitting pale in comparison to the gap between first and third.

Manchester City went up in the second minute through Fernandinho, giving an early impression that Wednesday’s game would be a City cruise. For the next 71 minutes, only scattered half-chances for the Black Cats hinted Sunderland would compete, though an often disorganized City defense continued to give the league’s last place club a path back into the match.

In the 73rd minute, after a cross from Emanuele Giaccherini found him open at the far post, Wickham’s first goal of the night seized that opportunity, with a second score 10 minutes later leaving the Black Cats within minutes of a shock upset. Two minutes before full-time, however, a Nasri shot through the hands of Vito Mannone trickled over Sunderland’s goal line, allowing City to salvage a 2-2 result.

It remains to be seen whether that point will even matter. Six points back with one game in hand, Manchester City is no longer in position to take advantage of a potential slip when Chelsea visits Anfield on April 27. Instead, Chelsea become sLiverpool’s main title contenders, with a lackadaisical City left hoping more missteps from the top two can bring the team back into the title race.

At the other end of the table, Sunderland gets a point it wasn’t expecting, pulling within six of safety. With a match in hand and a five-game losing streaked snapped, the Black Cats, buoyed by the result, have reason to think an improbable survival run is possible.

Having never won at the Etihad, Sunderland’s fortunes were brightened early, with Manuel Pellergini selecting a team without Yaya Touré and David Silva. Touré, removed early on Sunday against Liverpool, is out for two weeks. While Silva’s absence was without explanation, a lingering ankle problems on the back of a short turnaround likely left the Spanish playmaker on the sidelines.

Two minutes after kick off, those absences appeared to be irrelevant, with a turnover forced by Álvaro Negredo producing an early opener. Dispossessing Lee Cattermole, Negredo poked the ball to Sergio Agüero, who eventually found Fernandinho bolting into the right of Sunderland’s area. A near-post finish past Mannone gave the hosts an early 1-0 lead.

Sunderland nearly equalized four minutes later on a restart from the right, but John O’Shea’s header from 10 yards out went wide. Another chance created for Fabio Borini left the Italian alone in front of Joe Hart to the right of goal. The Liverpool loanee’s shot sailed out of play, leaving the teams destined to go into halftime 1-0.

source: AP
Samir Nasir (right) provided the late equalizer for Manchester City.

A more controlling Manchester City came out for the second half — an unmotivated but oppressive grip that seemed to eliminate the slim chances Sunderland was able to muster in the first 45 minutes. As Pellegrini removed Agüero (57th minute) and Negredo (69th), a slight arrogance started to appear in City’s approach, one that made the lack of a second goal even more important.

In the 73rd minute, City’s lack of urgency came back to haunt them. On play built down the left side, Marcos Alonso found Giaccherini on a run through the left channel. Chipping the ball far post just before the byline, the Italian midfielder found Wickham alone inside the six-yard box, the easy tap-in into an empty goal bringing Sunderland even.

Ten minutes later, it was Giaccherini providing for Wickham again, giving the Black Cats an unlikely lead. Putting the young striker behind City’s increasingly suspect defense, Giaccherini allowed Wickham to go in alone on Hart, with a slow reaction from the City keeper toward his left post allowing the Sunderland forward his second goal of the match.

With Agüero and Negredo out of the game, City initially struggled to muster a response. In the 88th minute, however, the team received some help from the opposing keeper. On a low shot toward Mannone’s feet by Nasri, City were able to equalize, with pair of soft hands from the Sunderland keeper allowing Nasri’s shot to inch over the goal line.

Minutes later, Nasri had a chance for an equalizer from a near-identical spot before putting his shot into the crowd. Left drawn 2-2, City were sent to the locker room to consider their new, diminished title relevance, while Sunderland may have rekindled hope it can find a path to survival.

Lineups

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Dimechelis, Kolarov, Milner, Garcia, Fernandinho (Rodwell 87′), Nasri, Aguero (Jovetic 57′), Negredo (Dzeko 69′)

Goals: Fernandinho (2′), Nasri (88′)

Sunderland: Mannone, Vergini, Alonso, Brown, O’Shea, Cattermole, Colback, Larsson (Giaccherini 68′), Johnson, Morini (Scocco 69′), Wickham

Goals: Wickham (73′, 83′)

Guardiola: I’m staying at Man City and I love this challenge

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This year’s managerial merry-go-round tells us that nothing should surprise us, and there are few high-profile jobs that feel safe from changes at any given time.

Manchester City is one of them, but upheaval at old club Bayern Munich and uncertainty at Barcelona have had many linking Pep Guardiola with an early exit from the Etihad Stadium.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

But as Chuck D warned us so long ago, don’t believe the hype; Guardiola says he’s very happy at Man City and not quitting on the project or the season.

“We don’t have a joker in our pocket,” he said. “I know, all around the world, people are saying the Premier League is done.”

“But if people think I am going to resign for these results, they don’t know me. I like this challenge. I love to be in this position. If the club wants me next season, I want to be here 100 percent.”

Few would be surprise if Man City went on a wild run of wins, especially once Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane return to the team. The reason folks think the Premier League is over is the idea that Liverpool would lose nine more points than City seems so unlikely (though they do meet again).

Milan hoping to woo “great champion” Zlatan next week

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Serie A mainstays AC Milan are trying to woo Zlatan Ibrahimovic back to the San Siro.

The full-court press makes sense, as it will take some financial sacrifices for Ibrahimovic to join the side given Financial Fair Play problems in Milan.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

Coach Stefano Pioli called Zlatan “a great champion” while admitting he has to focus on the table and not transfers, while former AC Milan CEO Adriano Galliani issued a glowing call for the Swede to return to town.

From Football-Italia.com:

“It would be romantic if he returned. But I have a rule, I don’t talk about teams I’m not involved with anymore. I’m only a fan of Milan now. Still, his arrival would enrich Italian football, similar to when Cristiano Ronaldo came to Italy.”

Man, they know how to speak this guy’s language, don’t they?

Sky Sports says Ibrahimovic’s agent will meet with Milan again next week in the hopes of convincing him to take a lower wage deal, and the 38-year-old showed he’s willing to take one for the team during his stint with the LA Galaxy.

The move makes too much sense, with Milan’s 11 goals well below its expected goal number. They need a finisher, and Zlatan sure does that. And if lower wages means Zlatan gets to play mercenary for five months while proving he’s got the goods for a big wage for 2020-21, that’s an easy concession for the striker.

U.S. U-17 keeper Odunze learning from Schmeichel at Leicester City

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Leicester City’s huge secret was told to the world at the U-17 World Cup in Brazil, where imposing goalkeeper Chituru Odunze made several big saves in the United States’ quick exit from the group stage.

Odunze, who turned 17 last month, joined the Premier League outfit from the Vancouver Whitecaps last season, and is already getting some first team training time.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

This is all good news for a USMNT program which has a long history of goalkeepers shining at the top levels in Europe, including Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, and now Zach Steffen.

Odunze admits to being pleased at the tests provided by Jamie Vardy and the Leicester attackers, but says he’s learning more from the expertise on show from a trio of wise first team goalkeepers: Kasper Schmeichel, Danny Ward, and Eldin Jakupovic.

Schmeichel is a Premier League winner, Jakupovic a former regular PL starter with Hull City, and Ward helped Huddersfield Town to promotion during a loan from Liverpool. From The Leicester Mercury:

“They’re all really good role models at the club, and they sort of take you under their wing. They’ve taught me to calm down and be confident in my abilities,” Odunze said. “Of course, there are little pieces of technical information they give me while we’re training, but a lot of the lasting information I get from them is mental.”

The 17-year-old has a monstrous frame, so learning from Schmeichel and company at such a young age while getting tested by the Foxes’ electric attackers is a great combination. He is 2W-2L at the U18 Premier League level.

Premier League Preview: Manchester City v. Chelsea

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Manchester City and Chelsea both defend their slimmed title hopes when they meet Saturday at the Etihad Stadium (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

City is hoping to avoid a second-straight loss after dropping nine points behind prohibitive title favorites Liverpool last match day, while Frank Lampard‘s Blues know a loss could see them drop as many as 11 points behind the Reds.

And, of course, a win will give either side the table advantage over the other.

Ederson and David Silva are available again for Man City. Christian Pulisicis in contention to play” for Chelsea after missing the international break with the United States.

A Champions League match day follows this one, with Man City meeting Shakhtar Donetsk in Manchester on Tuesday and Chelsea in Spain to meet Valencia one day later.


Injuries/suspensions

Manchester City: OUT — Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane. QUESTIONABLE — None.

Chelsea: OUT — Ruben Loftus-Cheek. QUESTIONABLE — Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi.


Probable lineups

Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, Mendy; Rodri, Gundogan, B.Silva, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Aguero.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Tomori, Zouma, Alonso; Kovacic, Kante, Mount, Pulisic, Willian; Abraham.


What they’re saying

City’s Pep Guardiola on Frank Lampard’s young managerial career: “From my experience, experience doesn’t count much. I would say that when you know the club it is a good advantage and Frank Lampard knows Chelsea perfectly and everything behind the scenes – media, fans, players – so that is good. When I arrived (at Barcelona) not many people trusted me, honestly. Few, few people. Maybe the president, sporting director and not many. “Maybe Frank was similar at Derby. It was a big club, he didn’t take results in the beginning and people said he didn’t have experience. Look now.”

Frank Lampard on being above Man City after 12 matches: “For us to be in that position is something I am pleased with, I actually want more as well. I look at ourselves and don’t consider others, only where we could have got more points too, and there are times where we could have done. At the same time it is nice to be up there and around it. It’s a great test tomorrow, head to head to see where we’re at. It won’t be the end story, anyone can go to Manchester City and lose, they are such a strong outfit. That is what Pep Guardiola and the club have built over recent years. So I won’t be making huge judgements win or lose tomorrow without a doubt.”


Prediction

Could go either way, couldn’t it, but it feels more likely we see a vintage, defiant bounce back effort from City that looks a bit too easy given Chelsea’s strengths. This is the first big league test for Chelsea since its narrow loss to Liverpool on Sept. 22. We see the six-match winning streak ending via a 3-1 final score.