When the Premier League fixture list was announced, Pep Guardiola’s first game in English football looked as metaphorical as it did exciting: Pep Guardiola versus Big Sam Allardyce.
At the time, it was made all the juicier by the fact that Sunderland were a team on the up, Allardyce had kept his team in the league last season and they looked like they’d kick on this season.
Instead, ‘The Big Sam’ has found a new, international-sized job, and Sunderland have appointed David Moyes, which isn’t quite the yin and yang we expected, but will nevertheless be interesting.
With only Papy Djilobodji through the entrance door at the Stadium of Light so far this summer, Moyes has a lot of work to do if they’re to continue that upward progression. City’s new era, meanwhile, will need some time to bed in. It may well be a slow start for both teams…
It’s hardly ‘news’ at this point, but serial physio-botherers Ilkay Gundogan and Vincent Kompany will almost certainly miss Manchester City’s start to the season, though Pep Guardiola will hope to get both back to some sort of rag-tag fitness this season and keep them there – they will be huge players if they can stay fit.
For Sunderland, Jermain Defoe and Jan Kirchhoff are doubts for the opener, however Defoe’s thigh strain ‘isn’t as bad as first thought’ according to first-team coach Robbie Stockdale.
Both players would expect to play big roles in the City game, though having them fit for the home game against Middlesbrough a week later is surely much more important.
The first game of the season always makes for interesting lineups. Who will the manager look upon with favour for the rest of the season? Are the players playing together ready to actually play together? Are the fitness levels up to scratch?
With Manchester City having signed John Stones only days before the start of the season, it’s clear that the England international won’t be totally ready just yet to start – whether he does make the lineup or not. City have been playing with Aleksandar Kolarov and Tosin Adarabioyo at centre back during preseason, so it will be interesting to see who he is partnered with in the absence of Vincent Kompany, if indeed he starts.
For Sunderland, much will depend on the fitness of Defoe and Kirchhoff as well as the transfer status of players like Lamine Kone and Yann M’Vila. But even if Moyes gets new business done, the new signings will be in the same boat as John Stones – not ‘ready’ to start, even if they start.
The transfer merry-go-round is moving swiftly. Everton’s sale of John Stones to Manchester City means Everton are to bring Lamine Kone to Goodison Park. That seems to make sense of the Papy Djilobodji transfer to Sunderland. But at this point, David Moyes will need to bring in signings to actually strengthen the squad rather than replace what’s been lost.
Sunderland’s defence last season was, quite naturally given their league position, one of the worst in the league. Sam Allardyce started the shoring-up job, and Moyes will have to continue that, but against an attack like the one City are building (Aguero, De Bruyne, Sterling, Sane, Silva…) maybe the real test of that defence will start next week.