League Cup: Gulf in class

League Cup: Gulf in class
BACK ON SONG: Sergio Aguero giving Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone (on ground) a hard time all night.
PHOTO: AFP

Devastation was the order of business at the Stadium of Light yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Manchester City did more than just glow in the dark against Sunderland - they dazzled.

Many would struggle to envisage how this match-up contested the League Cup final two seasons ago.

A swarm of fluorescent shirts dominated an action-packed 45 minutes that was largely unreciprocated after the interval. It was perhaps for the best; Roger East's half-time whistle felt like an act of humanity.

That Sunderland stunned both City and the onlookers at Wembley 18 months ago with an early strike, only to be downed by a second-half fightback, seems almost incomprehensible now.

Their respective evolutions have intertwined in a classic tale of the haves and the have-nots.

City's financial muscle has rendered any semblance of a weakened side virtually obsolete. But, at a cumulative cost of £247.7 million ($540m), their starting line-up was still hardly one thrown together with the sole remit of making up the numbers.

Consolidating their English Premier League lead and defying their previous record in the Champions League are arguably greater priorities than the League Cup.

But, on the back of successive defeats, Manuel Pellegrini persisted with seven of the personnel that began in the reversal to West Ham United last week.

The results was typically explosive; typically City.

From the onset, the EPL leaders took the fight to the league's basement dwellers. Sergio Aguero's ninth-minute penalty set the tone for a game that was all over bar the shouting by the half-hour.

Fabio Borini will argue that his disallowed equaliser, ruled out for a foul on Nicolas Otamendi after the pair collided, was contentious.

In truth, it would only have accelerated City's offensive, eventually stirred after Ola Toivoien threatened Willy Caballero's goal.

THREAT

The response was emphatic. Kevin de Bruyne notched his second goal in as many games as a drilled shot beat Vito Mannone at his near post. Dick Advocaat, himself a former Belgium manager, may have been forewarned of his threat but his Sunderland side were hardly forearmed.

Raheem Sterling's chance to become a provider turned poacher required a hand of fortune from Mannone, who inadvertently guided the ball home after it had cannoned back off his right-hand post.

Little assistance or dispute was required for City's fourth; Sterling's in his own right. De Bruyne, ironically putting the hosts to the sword as his former club Wolfsburg received a 5-1 thrashing by a Robert Lewandowski-inspired Bayern Munich, returned Sterling's compliment with a simple pass that set him and City on their way into the last 16 of the competition.

As the home fans streamed for the exits, the Stadium of Light became increasingly cavernous for its tenants. This was the third home loss for the Black Cats this season.

For City, to lose one game was misfortune, two appeared to be careless. At the third time of asking, they appear to have finally rediscovered their swagger.


This article was first published on September 24, 2015.
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