Despite brushing aside Tottenham in the semi-finals, Sunderland march into the Barclays Asia Trophy final as the underdogs against 2011-2012 Premier League champions.
There was a tentative start to the game as both teams tried to get to grips with the pitch, which was the resemblance of a mud-pit and arguably worse conditions than on Thursday as both teams struggled to maintain any possession. It would be Sunderland who start the brighter, Stephane Sessegnon with a typical jinking run but Adam Johnson’s cross was stopped. We also mustered a couple of free kicks but no real chances created.
It was however City who took the early initiative with their very first foray into the attacking third. Yaya Toure floated a ball into the area, which Wes Brown did well to get to first, only to head it to Edin Dzeko. His first time volley, with his left foot, was simply sublime – you can’t do much about those goals! Vito Mannone helpless to stop it.
Although City did begin to mount some form of superiority over the following five minutes, Sunderland began to grow into the game and Emanuele Giaccherini looked particularly bright. Jozy Alitdore showed a smart touch before handing over to Giaccherini, his curling shot looked good until deflected wide for a corner. The Italian International showed great control to release Sessegnon through the middle but for once his touch let him down. The Black Cats won another flurry of free kicks with nothing to show as the half hour mark came. Shortly after Giaccherini threatened again, forcing a save from Costel Pantillimon – a very slick Sunderland so far.
City would finish the half the stronger side, Dzeko with a right footed first time volley this time but a easy save for Mannone as well as turning provider before Negredo volleyed over. City’s newest Spaniard nearly burst through the middle but for excellent defensive play by Jack Colback. Craig Gardner very nearly scored an own goal on the stroke of half time, meeting David Silva’s free kick infront of Matija Nastastić – his defensive header hit the post and may have looked suspect, but prevented a certain goal.
Sunderland ended the half arguably the better side – but finding themselves a goal down. Both teams made substitutions at half time with Cabral, Altidore, Mannone, Silva and James Milner leaving the pitch replaced by El Hadji Ba, Connor Wickham, Kieren Westwood, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas.
It was a confident start to the half, Johnson particularly bright with a couple of testing runs and plenty more set pieces for Sunderland. Sessegnon’s cross was intercepted by Vincent Kompany denying Wickham a tap in. We pressed high all game and City really struggled to command possession as we are so use to. More subs followed as Johnson, Yaya Toure and Gael Clichy were replaced by David Moberg Karlsson, Fernandinho and Alexsander Kolarov.
Simiar to the first half, City’s first attack led to what should have been their second goal. After neat play, Ba was penalised for hand ball and a penalty was given. It definitely hit the hand, but I still think these hand ball penalties are so harsh – Ba was barely a yard away from Fernandinho. However, Dzeko took one of the worst penalities you have seen – okay the pitch is bad, but that was a comical strike!
Sunderland continued their impressive start to the half as Wickham’s good touch almost set him through, Kolarov with the defending this time and yet more set pieces (two corners) would follow. Controversy in the box as Giaccherini sweeped through delightfully and was bundled to the floor – referee Anthony Taylor judged Kolarov had got the ball first, and upon reviewing the replay he got it right. Just beforehand, Navas forced Westwood into a smart save. More subs, Nastasić injured and replaced by Joleon Lescott, James McClean replaced the impressive Giaccherini.
City again should have gone two nil up, this time on the break. Nasri and Navas were two against one, but Nasri’s ball was poor forcing Navas wide. He did well to beat the keeper but that one was Gardner who did excellently to clear off the line.
Although we huffed and puffed and certainly looked the more likely, there was just one more chance created of note towards the end. Sebastian Larsson’s free kick from just outside the area had the expectant crowd willing for an equaliser – it was on target but a routine save for Pantilimon. Mikael Mandron replaced Sessegnon late on but City held on without much trouble to win the Barclays Asia Trophy.
All in all, we deserved a penalty shootout. However, we won’t be losing too much sleep over letting this less prestigious silverware pass us by. The tournament did however show the significant improvement of the squad since last season, in quality and fitness. We are extremely assured on the ball even in such trying conditions and with some creativity to boot. We pressed so high all game, a team with less composure as City would have found it very difficult to deal with. Perhaps it is just a preseason tournament, but it has shown me we will be just fine this season.
Sunderland: Mannone (Westwood, 46); Gardner, O’Shea, Brown, Colback; Johnson (Moberg Karlsson, 62), , Cabral (Ba, 46), Giaccherini (McClean, 78) Larsson; Sessegnon, Altidore (Wickham, 46)
Unused Substitutes: Pickford, Vaughan
Manchester City: Pantilimon; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasić (Lescott,76), Clichy (Kolarov, 62); Milner, Garcia, Toure (Fernandinho, 62), Silva; Dzeko, Negredo
Unused Substitutes: Wright, Rodwell, Barry, Boyata