Ahead of the Boxing Day game with Manchester City we speak to Rob Pollard of the excellent Manchester City blog, Typical City and get his views on them, us, the title run-in and much more. Join us!
How have things been for Man City this season, and are you where you thought you'd be at this stage?
Rob Pollard: We've not really got going yet. In the league, we have 6 points fewer than we had at this stage last season, and performance wise we've been nowhere near as good. Having said that, we've only lost 1 game and we're right in the mix at the top of the table. The good thing for us, and I hope this is how the players are seeing things, is that we have so much room for improvement. We're are in second place, yet we haven't really hit the heights we're capable of. We have played well in flashes: Fulham away, Newcastle away and Tottenham at home spring to mind as games where we produced moments of real quality, but compared to last season, where we were imperious and blowing teams away with ease, we've been way off.
What is it about the Champions League with Mancini? Any thoughts on why your lot just can't seem to get it going in Europe despite dominating domestically?
RP: I wish I could pinpoint the problem but my answer is: I don't know. Clearly, there is an issue, to ignore that would be very silly and illogical. Mancini's Champions League difficulties pre-date his spell with us and it is a cause for concern, no question about that. But i just feel that if he wins the league again this season he will deserve another shot at the Champions League next season.
To be fair, last season we had a really tough group and took 10 points, so we were a little unlucky. This season, however, was a total disaster. We didn't even win a game.
City still spent some cash this summer on Javi Garcia and Scott Sinclair, but we haven't seen much of them. Why is this?
RP: Because they've not been very good! Sinclair is an odd signing. It seemed odd at the time and nothing has changed my mind having seen him. It's interesting because i interviewed a Swansea fan for my blog and he said he didn't understand why we bought him because he was poor for them. He thought it was a joke when our interest was first revealed.
Javi Garcia has played more often than him but he is painfully slow. We replaced De Jong with him and my understanding was that he was better on the ball than De Jong and it was a signing which would evolve us. He's actually not great on the ball at all and his passing is poor. Sometimes new foreign players take a while to adjust, maybe he's one of those.
In truth, with the exception of Nastasic who has looked excellent for a 19-year-old, we wasted pretty much every penny of our summer transfer budget. Much of that was down to the ineptitude of Brian Marwood who has since been demoted, but Mancini must take a portion of the blame.
You also sold us Adam Johnson. How will his time at the Etihad be remembered now he's left?
RP: For me, he will be remembered as a man who wasted a wonderful opportunity. When he first arrived, we all loved him. He was young, English and cost us little. He gradually eroded the fans' positivity towards him because he was incredibly lazy. Much to the dismay of the media who have tried to characterise City as a bunch of lazy, overpaid individuals, we actually have an extremely hard-working squad. Mancini demands a high work-rate and far bigger names than Adam Johnson respond to the manager's desire to see a hard-working side. Johnson wouldn't track his man, he would try to beat players when simple balls were on, and was generally a liability despite buckets of talent. Our right-backs, Zabaleta and Richards, will have been extra glad to see the back of him because he offered them no help whatsoever defensively.
We're yet to really see the best of Johnson if we're honest. Is this inconsistency a thing with him?
RP: Yes, I suppose it is. When he clicks, he can be very dangerous but if he's off it you may as well have an under-10s player out there because at least he'll run around a bit.
Ahead to this game though. Do you see any problems Sunderland could pose City?
RP: Yeah, for sure. Sunderland have some very decent players. Fletcher, in particular, looks a very sound investment and if he gets a chance he'll no doubt put it away. After last season, where you took 4 points off us, we'd be daft to take this game lightly.
What's going to be the key matchup in your opinion - what battle needs to be won for either team to move forward?
RP: The key will be whether we fancy it. If we produce another lacklustre performance then you will have a great chance of an upset, but if we are on our game then we should win comfortably. We have a problem this season in that we don't score enough when we're on top. We have periods where we dominate possession but don't seem to take our chances. If we take our chances, we should win.
What's your prediction for this one?
RP: 2-0 City.