Sunderland analysis: What was Sam Allardyce trying to achieve with Man City changes?

David Silva
David Silva

Without the services of on-field lieutenants Lee Cattermole, Younes Kaboul and Seb Larsson, even Sunderland fans who had spent Christmas Day gargling with sherry won't have been particularly optimistic heading to the Etihad.

This squad is struggling enough as it is, let alone without three figures who are going to be absolutely pivotal if Sunderland are to have a prayer of survival.

But the manner in which Sunderland were swatted aside with such embarrassing ease only further fuelled the fire of relegation, which is beginning to resemble an inferno.

This was five-a-side training stuff for Manchester City.

Perhaps for the first time during his tenure, Sam Allardyce will face some flak for a loss too.

Allardyce's options were hardly huge, most notably in the middle of the park, and if he was trying to preserve energy levels for two humongous Stadium of Light encounters against Liverpool and Aston Villa, then it's perhaps understandable, if not particularly palatable.

He was clearly trying to keep his key players fresh when he took off Yann M'Vila and Steven Fletcher in the second half.

But that doesn't necessarily explain the two eyebrow-raising changes among the six alterations to the starting XI.

Costel Pantilimon has not been great this season (far from it for the most part) yet Vito Mannone has looked utterly drained of confidence in his sporadic appearances over the last year and has been touted for a January exit.

Pantilimon wouldn't necessarily have kept out any of City's first half goals, yet the sluggish way in which Mannone got down to them showed a keeper who just wasn't sharp.

Deploying Danny Graham on the right wing was equally bizarre, albeit he went close to halving City's advantage with a header when they were 2-0 up.

There are reservations enough over Graham's calibre at this level anymore, let alone as a wideman.

Allardyce claimed afterwards that he was just trying to give his fringemen an opportunity, yet was he also trying to make a point to Ellis Short that he needs far more than the two new recruits next month?

However, whatever the rights or wrongs of Allardyce's selection, City's goals all came from rank bad defending. That's six goals Sunderland have now conceded inside the opening 25 minutes in the last three games.

Patrick van Aanholt decided to trot across to Kevin De Bruyne to close down the cross for City's opener, before 5ft 7in Raheem Sterling was allowed to head home.

Jordi Gomez gave Yaya Toure all the room in the world to let fly from 25 yards for the second and then Wilfried Bony out-jumped John O'Shea for the third.

De Bruyne netted the fourth at almost walking pace.

Thanks to those belated Christmas gifts, City were able to toy with the visitors in first gear, when they could easily have netted seven or eight had they really wanted to.

Defensively, Sunderland were just as bad as in those kamikaze early games of the campaign.

Unless they cut that out, then Allardyce's selection is largely redundant.