City take on Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium in the first teatime kick-off of the new Premier League season but where will the game be won or lost?
Club Journalist @markbooth_mcfc picks out five Talking Points for our first assignment of 2016/17…
1 Lift Off
Finally, after months of waiting, Pep Guardiola will take charge of his first official game as City boss on what promises to be a real “I was there” moment for supporters.
The Catalan has warned that it will take time for his team to play the way he has dreamed but has promised that “soul” will be in ready supply for this visit of David Moyes’ Black Cats.
Guardiola has an enviable record in first league matches of campaigns, winning his first three at Bayern and his last three domestic openers at Barcelona – if he can keep up that proud run, it’s sure to be an evening to remember at the Etihad.
Guardiola hinted that he might hand John Stones his City debut on Saturday in his pre-match press conference on Friday afternoon but Nicolas Otamendi will face a late fitness test to determine whether he’ll be involved.
Pep admitted that without the UEFA Champions League play-off on Tuesday, Otamendi would probably play against Sunderland but, with it, the question mark over the Argentine’s inclusion is pronounced.
Taking liberties and assuming Stones starts and The General is absent, who would start alongside the new boy?
Aleksandar Kolarov and Fernando both featured in that role in pre-season, while young Tosin Adarabioyo also saw plenty of action and Fernandinho also dropped in to play there on a couple of occasions in pre-season.
Pep’s first teamsheet will make for a fascinating read…
Guardiola has met Moyes once before in the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League when Bayern Munich knocked out United at the quarter-final stage.
Also going in City’s favour is the fact that Sunderland are chasing their first ever Premier League win at the Etihad, with their last league away victory against us occurring at Maine Road in the old Division One back in 1981.
City are also unbeaten in their last seven home league openers (W6 D1) and we’ve won our last five – however, one note of caution… only Arsene Wenger has won more Premier League games at the Etihad than the newly appointed Sunderland boss (5).
Kun Aguero has been in fine form this pre-season, showing no ill signs of fatigue following Argentina’s run to the Copa America final.
A lot of that is probably down to the fact that he acted as understudy to Gonzalo Higuain for the majority of the tournament, meaning he will be eager to hit the ground running against one of his favourite opponents.
No-one has scored more goals than Sergio’s 17 goals in 2016 and he netted three and assisted two in his last three Premier League appearances against Sunderland.
With two in two in pre-season, our Argentine ace will be hoping to get firing from the get-go in 2016/17.
5 Summer on Wearside
Big Sam’s appointment as England manager certainly threw a spanner in the works of Sunderland’s pre-season but all of the noises emanating from Wearside indicate that the Black Cats are all pulling in the same direction and will aim to look up the division this season.
For the past few years the North East outfit have been flirting with the relegation places but now with one of the Premier League’s most experienced managers in place, the Stadium of Light faithful will be feeling as though they can steer clear of the drop zone this time around.
Moyes’ last visit to the Etihad as United boss ended in a heavy defeat but the Wearsiders enjoyed a three pre-season wins, as well as two creditable draws against Montpellier and Borussia Dortmund, so will be hoping to spring an opening day surprise.