Manchester City v Sunderland preview: Gus Poyet will go for the jugular

Gus Poyet will not ‘park the bus’ at the Etihad this evening – because he knows the red and white wheels would fall off if he did

PA Wire Sunderland manager Gustavo Poyet
Sunderland manager Gustavo Poyet

Jose Mourinho was the man who introduced the traditionally Portuguese phrase to the British sporting lexicon, accusing Tottenham of defending so deeply at Stamford Bridge they may as well have brought a double decker onto the field.

Since then the term has been misused and misunderstood: thrown at teams to describe everything from a resolute, ten-man spoiling effort to the sort of rope-a-dope, counter-attacking football that has worked well for plenty of the Premier League’s middleweights this season. Either way, it is a form of football which puts the emphasis on defending.

Looking ahead to tonight’s trip to the North West, you get the impression that Poyet wishes he had that option in his armoury. Having scrolled through his squad, his conclusion is absolutely clear. “I watched the Manchester United v Fulham game and it was an incredible game of football. I respect any kind of football,” he said.

“Me, with the players I’ve got here I cannot do that. I cannot do that but they got the result. If you need a point to get safe and you do it like that it’s very, very welcome.”

For Poyet the approach must be different. There has been a guile to Sunderland’s away-day tactics that has been missing for a while at the Stadium of Light, with Poyet liberating Ki Sung-Yueng and Jack Colback to make the sort of daring attacking raids that did for Newcastle, Fulham and Manchester United (over the course of two games).

Even now that he is toying with the idea of Lee Cattermole’s return to partner Liam Bridcutt, it should not be viewed as an attempt to start shutting up shop. Doing that, Poyet argues, would be kamikaze.

“I watched Crystal Palace’s game at Manchester City and I thought they did very well. A big thing in football is whether you accept the ways your team can play,” he said.

“It’s not easy to explain. It’s been quite easy for teams like Palace and Fulham at Man U the other day to really go there and try and defend and try to break. They have the players to do that, we don’t.

“If you can find someone who wants to play like this with Sunderland I am happy to let them do it and they can play that way. But we won’t.

“If we played that way, Ki wouldn’t play and there are good players who will be on the bench because we cannot play that way.

“We have got another system that is different and for some reason it is better away from home. At home sometimes we need to get a bit higher and to be a bit more open and fans push us on. Next year we will see but this year let’s accept what we are and there is a way we need to play to win games.”

Poyet’s other reason to go for City’s jugular is that he has little confidence in Sunderland’s home form. Games against Crystal Palace, Cardiff, West Ham and Swansea offer opportunities to bank points on Wearside but little about their performances at the Stadium of Light leads to the Sunderland boss taking wins for granted in those matches.

So they head to Manchester City looking to spring the ultimate surprise in a season of red-and-white shocks. Poyet explains: “If we were a team that was very strong at home, these next three games wouldn’t matter so much but we are not so we need to take these three games.

“I am not saying they are more important than the Fulham game at home but nearly. We have been better away from home for whatever reason. Now, against the top teams, we will see.

“It’s a great opportunity to see. Maybe that’s a motivation for going past Southampton on Saturday, so that we don’t play against Liverpool because it’s the Cup on Saturday and it would be postponed and then it’s not three games away from home. So now is Southampton more important or Man City?” If the stakes weren’t so high, it would be tempting to paint this as a dress rehearsal for the main act at Wembley next month. As it is, Poyet does not believe it will have much of a bearing on March’s Wembley showdown because the personnel for that game will be so different.

Sunderland are likely to have Steven Fletcher back while City have an all-star cast to return.

He said: “In the final there will be Nasri, Aguero, Fernandinho and all of those. Maybe it will be the same back four, and we will be able to learn something from that. “Maybe there will be some situations where we can take advantage but I’m sure it’ll be a totally different game.

“We will see because we’ll play the game and we’ll learn a lot from it. will the final be in my mind tomorrow night? No. Not at all. I’ll not be picking a team tomorrow thinking about the final.”

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