Kolarov and Sterling shine in opening day victory
FA Premier League
Saturday 13 August 2016, 17.30 KO
City: Caballero, Sagna, Stones, Kolarov, Clichy (Iheanacho 80), Fernandinho, Silva (Delph 64), De Bruyne, Nolito (Navas 59), Sterling, Aguero
Unused: Hart, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Fernando
Goals: Aguero (4), McNair (og, 87)
Referee: Bobby Madley
Man of the match: Sterling
Pep Guardiola got his Manchester City managerial career off to a winning start against a spirited Sunderland side, but had to rely on a late own goal from the unfortunate Paddy McNair to seal the victory.
There was great anticipation around The Etihad ahead of kick off, although much of the pre-match talk centred on the exclusion of Joe Hart from Guardiola's starting XI. Speculation has been rife all summer that Hart doesn't fit Guardiola's requirements for a goalkeeper, with question marks remaining over his ability with the ball at his feet and his erratic distribution. It was, perhaps, therefore no great surprise that Willy Caballero was selected ahead of the England international, and it seems likely that Hart will leave City this summer after nearly a decade at the club.
Guardiola's side began brightly here, and the new manager could scarcely have wished for a better start as a rejuvenated Raheem Sterling was brought down by Patrick van Aanholt in the box after just three minutes. Referee Madley didn't hesitate to point to the spot, and Aguero confidently dispatched the penalty past Vito Mannone to give the Blues the lead.
Sterling endured a difficult start to his City career, and appeared bereft of confidence towards the end of Manuel Pellegrini's reign, but revelled in his new right-wing role here. He was a constant thorn in van Aanholt's side, and looked to take on his full back at every opportunity. On the opposite flank, Nolito enjoyed a promising debut following his summer move from Celta Vigo. The Spanish international nearly doubled City's lead with a curled effort from the edge of the box, but saw his shot drift just wide of the far post.
It looked at this stage as though City could run riot, but Sunderland regained their composure and fought their way back into the game. As expected of a David Moyes side, the Black Cats were well organised and whilst City dominated possession, with inverted fullbacks Clichy and Sagna giving them a numerical advantage in midfield, they struggled to create any further chances of note in the first half.
The Blues' makeshift centre half pairing of Aleksandar Kolarov and new signing John Stones comfortably kept Sunderland in check in the secnd period, until the veteran Jermaine Defoe scored an unexpected equaliser twenty minutes from time. There was always a risk that a one goal lead may not be enough, and so it proved when ex-City player Jack Rodwell slipped Defore through in the area and striker finished neatly under Caballero.
Guardiola responded by bringing on Iheanacho as a second striker, and City were rewarded late on when Navas, another substitute, saw his cross deflected into his own net by McNair with just three minutes remaining. It was a scrappy end to the game, but the sense of relief inside The Etihad was palpable. Guardiola's City aree clearly a work in progress, and whilst they laboured to victory here, there were plenty of signs of encouragement for City's supporters. It promises to be an exciting season for the Blue half of Manchester.