Sunderland remain a work-in-progress as they head into the final fortnight before the Premier League season.
But Paolo Di Canio feels his new-look Black Cats are beginning to turn a corner after their pre-season trip to sodden South China.
Sunderland showed flashes of excellence over their two games in the Barclays Asia Trophy, impressing in their defeat of Tottenham before showing room for improvement in Saturday’s final against Manchester City.
It took a brilliant volley by Edin Dzeko in the early stages of the game to down Sunderland but in truth, Manuel Pelligrini’s side were deserved winners of the Trophy – with Tottenham taking third place after thrashing South China on a disgracefully poor pitch.
Sunderland had trained hard before the Citizens’ clash and it showed as they were limited to a few chances, with Emanuele Giaccherini firing into the hands of Costel Pantilimon in the first half. Sebastian Larsson also went close in the later stages as Sunderland looked to take the game to penalties.
Di Canio was happy with Sunderland’s efforts but said there was still plenty of extra work to do before the season’s opener against Fulham in a fortnight.
“There is still a job to do, ” the Black Cats boss said. “We have players with very good quality, and some understand my philosophy already. The way they approach the games is crucial for me.
“Some of them still have to learn how to do it but that is normal because everyone has their background. Twenty-three days that we have been together is not a lot, and sometimes with players who come from abroad, even after a year they have not completely changed their mentality.
“When you have a lot of new players you can be up and down – this is normal – but against Manchester City I did not see a real down.”
Di Canio is attempting the remarkable feat of completely transforming Sunderland – both in terms of their style, system and “philosophy”, a favoured term of the Black Cats boss.
He has the personnel to play his formation now but there are still issues to iron out.
“El-Hadji (Ba) is a young man and it is a surprise. On Saturday it was not Cabral’s day, but he was fantastic (against Tottenham), ” he said.
“Sess (Stephane Sessegnon) did not start well but he got better. Giaccherini had less energy but his intelligence can cause problems and help his team-mates. Adam (Johnson) needs to know more from me because sometimes he interprets the game in his own way. But it is not an issue because he has the will to learn more.
“It is not about the result, it is about us improving.”
Sunderland jetted back to England yesterday and are set to play at least one more friendly.
Reports in both Denmark and Portugal have claimed tune-up games will be played abroad before the Premier League season starts, but the club have previously rubbished talk of going to the Algarve.
Di Canio summed up the game: “I am pleased with the game for the general condition. We had a single training session, Manchester City had two. I’m not happy but I’m satisfied.”
SUNDERLAND: Mannone (Westwood 46), Gardner, Brown, O’Shea, Colback, Johnson (Moberg Karlsson 60), Larsson, Cabral (Ba 46), Giaccherini (McClean 76), Sessegnon (Mandron 88), Altidore (Wickham 46). Subs (not used): Pickford, Vaughan, Cuellar, Roberge.
MANCHESTER CITY: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic (Lescott 75), Clichy (Kolarov 62), Milner (Jesus Navas 46), Javi Garcia, Toure (Fernandinho 61), Silva (Nasri 46), Negredo (Barry 79), Dzeko. Subs (not used): Wright, Rodwell, Boyata.
Goal: Dzeko 9.
Attendance: 40,000 Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).