Manchester City bounced back from their defeat at Arsenal in style with a 4-1 demolition of struggling Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium. Manuel Pellegrini’s side were given much to ponder on Christmas thanks to a 2-1 reversal to their title rivals on Monday, but Boxing Day provided a far sweeter gift to unwrap. And it was Kevin de Bruyne who was the man chiefly responsible for delivering it, assisting first-half headed goals from Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Bony, sandwiching an effort from Yaya Toure. And after the interval, the Belgian added a goal of his own to cap a fine individual performance, before Fabio Borini grabbed the merest of consolations for Sunderland.
It wasn’t all joyous for City, however. Bony missed a penalty for a chance to make the scoreline even more emphatic, and of far more consequence was a recurrence of captain Vincent Kompany’s calf injury. Making his first appearance since early November, Kompany lasted just nine minutes after coming off the bench before trudging dejectedly back off the pitch as the Etihad crowd watched on in anxious silence. They and everyone realize just how crucial the center-back is to City’s chances of landing a third title in five seasons.
In his absence, City have been frustratingly inconsistent, demonstrated aptly by their veering from such a lackluster display against Arsenal to so easily sweeping Sunderland aside. When Manchester City play as they did on Saturday it reinforces why they are rightly regarded by many as having the best squad in the Premier League. As it is, their victory, coupled with Leicester City’s defeat at Liverpool, means City close the gap at the top of the Premier League to just three points ahead of their trip to Leicester on Tuesday.
And, while the injury to Kompany provides plenty of cause for concern, the performance of his fellow Belgian offers much encouragement. De Bruyne’s latest efforts put him into double figures for both goals and assists in just his 23rd appearance since arriving from Wolfsburg in the summer. While his transfer fee of £54 million raised some eyebrows, he is already proving a superb addition.
It was he who got City going just 12 minutes in. De Bruyne delivered a superb cross from the right straight onto the head of Sterling at the back post, and, while the former Liverpool forward’s header was far from textbook, it still had enough on it to bounce down into the turf and past Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
When Toure was then allowed to effortlessly stroll forward, turn onto his left foot and fire low into the bottom corner of the net only five minutes later, the situation was already beginning to look dire for Sunderland. Sam Allardyce had selected a surprisingly attacking lineup, with Borini and Danny Graham lining up in a front three either side of Steven Fletcher. But his side, who remain second from bottom of the Premier League table, were never truly in the contest.
With 22 minutes gone, the match was already effectively decided in City’s favor. De Bruyne this time delivered in a free-kick and Bony met it with a fine header low into the net from fully 15 yards. Manchester City could have scored far more had they been more ruthless. As it was they had to settle for just one further goal. When De Bruyne’s attempted pass for Bony came back to him off a sliding interception from Sebastian Coates, the man of the match calmly slotted the ball home from 12 yards.
Sunderland did get a goal back when Borini latched onto Lee Cattermole’s scuffed shot and beat Joe Hart at the second attempt. But, even with Bony’s woeful penalty soaring high over the bar, there was precious little cheer for Sunderland to take back to the north east.