Manchester City need to get back to winning ways if they are to sustain their push for a third Premier League title into the New Year when they face Premier League strugglers Sunderland on Boxing Day (15:00).
The Citizens, who lost 2-1 to fellow rivals Arsenal on Monday night at the Emirates Stadium, have fallen six points behind surprise league leaders Leicester City heading into Christmas after three defeats in their last five outings.
Meanwhile the visitors, who were defeated 3-1 by defending champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last Saturday, remain five points adrift of safety in 19th place after three losses on the bounce for Sam Allardyce’s Black Cats.
The two sides have already come face-to-face this campaign; with Man City getting the better of their rivals with a comprehensive 4-1 victory at the Stadium of Light in the Capital One Cup back in September. Goals from Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and an own goal from goalkeeper Vito Mannone sealed the rout.
Heading into the match; City have won four and lost four of the last 10 top-flight meetings against Sunderland, although they won both league meetings last term 4-1 and 3-2 respectively.
However; past records indicate that a slip-up could be on the cards for Manuel Pellgrini’s men as the hosts have only lost one of their last eight Premier League fixtures on Boxing Day, which ironically came against the Black Cats back in 2012 (1-0).
Visiting manager Allardyce will be hoping striker Jermain Defoe can continue his impressive goalscoring record on the day after Christmas, with the former England international having bagged six goals in 10 league appearances on Boxing Day.
A goal from the visitors tonight will be no surprise however as City have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last seven league outings at the Etihad Stadium, their longest run without a shut out at home since December 2009.
Although with star striker Aguero deemed fully fit for this festive fixture; the Argentina ace could inflict a fourth straight league defeat on Sunderland, in what would be their worst losing streak since April 2014 (five defeats in a row).
Aguero & Co. will fancy their chances given that the Black Cats have conceded the most goals (33) and allowed their opponents the most shots on target (106) in the Premier League so far this season.
Captain Vincent Kompany is set to return to City’s starting eleven after recovering from a calf problem; meaning one of his fellow centre-half partners, Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala, will likely drop out.
However this festive fixture has come too soon for injured duo Pablo Zabaleta (Knee ligament) and Fernando (Hamstring), although both are likely to return to the club’s matchday squad next week.
Meanwhile Sunderland manager Allardyce was shocked to learn midfielder Jack Rodwell is suspended for the trip to his former club after picking up his fifth booking of the season against Chelsea, in only his fifth start this term.
Elsewhere; ‘Big Sam’ could hand a start to vice-captain Lee Cattermole at the Etihad following his recovery from a back problem, although Sebastian Larsson remains ruled out until mid-January with a knee injury.
League Position: Man City – 3rd (32 pts); Sunderland – 19th (12 pts)
Last Meeting: Sunderland 1-4 Man City – Sept 22, 2015 (Capital One Cup)
Key Players: Man City – Kevin De Bruyne; Sunderland – Yann M’Vila
Premier League Form: Man City – DLWLWL; Sunderland – LWWLLL
Shoot Says: Man City 2-0 Sunderland