Manchester City 4 Sunderland 1: As Vincent Kompany hobbled back to the dressing room after his planned return from injury ended prematurely, Manuel Pellegrini was left to wrestle with an increasingly familiar problem.

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Manchester City must cope without Vincent Kompany

Manchester City 4 Sunderland 1: As Vincent Kompany hobbled back to the dressing room after his planned return from injury ended prematurely, Manuel Pellegrini was left to wrestle with an increasingly familiar problem.

Manchester City must cope without Vincent Kompany

Kompany’s continuing injury problems are a growing concern for the Manchester City manager, who will be anxious to learn the full extent of the recurrence of his captain’s calf injury.

Whatever the outcome of the latest round of examinations, however, Pellegrini knows his side must learn to cope more effectively without the centre-back than they have done so far this season.

The manager was quick to point out Kompany’s absence was not that unusual with the Belgium international having played in around seven of every 10 Premier League fixtures over the last two seasons.

His absence has never been felt more profoundly than this season though. Kompany was back to his best after performing inconsistently last season before his latest injury concern and now faces another spell out after his appearance as a second-half substitute against Sunderland came to a halt after just eight minutes.

During his absence City have shipped goals frequently — 19 in the 10 league games he hasn’t started, compared to just one in the eight games he has — a weakness that could ultimately cost the club a third Premier League title in five years. Pellegrini knows his side must adapt to compensate when the captain is missing and that places a greater onus on Nicolas Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala, and Martin Demichelis, the club’s other central defenders.

“We cannot think that all the mistakes is just because Vincent isn’t playing,” said the manager. “He’s very important. That doesn’t mean that we have to think that with Vincent we’re not going to make any mistakes, and without him we cannot win.

“It’s an important challenge for the other players. At the moment maybe we’re conceding some goals in two or three games — Tottenham, Liverpool, and Stoke — but Arsenal didn’t shoot too much before they scored the first goal. We are improving. I hope we will play like we finished last season without Vincent — keeping four or five clean sheets and winning.

“We’ve played the whole season with an average of six players injured in every game. But without Vincent we must try to continue being competitive. That depends on the performances of Mangala, Otamendi, and Demichelis.”

Sunderland were never likely to test the extent of City’s reliance on Kompany, and certainly not after they conceded three early goals, displaying the kind of inept defending that gets teams relegated. Raheem Sterling, Yaya Toure, and Wilfried Bony were the beneficiaries of a timid defence playing with fear, according to Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce.

Kevin De Bruyne added a fourth and Bony should have made it five when he sent a penalty over the bar after Fabio Borini had finally conjured a response for the visitors.

De Bruyne, in particular, was outstanding for Pellegrini’s side and with a trip to leaders Leicester City looming tomorrow night, the Belgium international’s continued good form could see the club enter the new year at the top of the table less than a fortnight after they had appeared on the slide. That depends on Arsenal failing to beat Bournemouth today, but the permutations underline the openness of this season’s title race.

“We are in contention at the top but want to go higher,” said De Bruyne. “Everyone knows how quickly things change. We are at halfway so there are a lot of points to gain or lose. We are in contention so we are doing fine.

“They said that the Arsenal game was the biggest game of the season, but it is just three points if we win it, and if we lose it we are still there.”

Allardyce’s concerns are at the other end of the table where his side lie second bottom, five points adrift of safety with a squad the manager concedes is in need of a desperate overhaul next month.

“We certainly need to strengthen the centre of defence,” said Allardyce. “We have lost Younes Kaboul for six to eight weeks so certainly that area is the first we have got to try and strengthen because we have got to get back to a resilient, defensive unit.

“I think I have got to get the fear out of the players somehow. They have got to release themselves from the fear they are showing. They are playing with fear, they look apprehensive, they are not playing on the front foot and from a defensive point of view, they are standing off the opposition.”

MAN CITY (4-4-2):

Hart 6; Sagna 6, Otamendi 6 (Kompany 62, Demichelis 70), Mangala 7, Kolarov 7; De Bruyne 9, Fernandinho 7, Toure 7 (Delph 62, 6), Silva 8; Bony 6, Sterling 7.

SUNDERLAND (4-2-3-1):

Mannone 6; Jones 5, O’Shea 5, Coates 5, Van Aanholt 5; M’Vila 6 (Cattermole 56, 6), Gomez 6; Johnson 5, Graham 6 (Watmore 71, 6), Borini 7; Fletcher 5 (Lens 62, 6).

Referee:

Anthony Taylor 7.

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