The doubly bad news for Manuel Pellegrini and Manchester City is that, whereas they have developed a peculiar habit of losing on Wearside, Sunderland are finally remembering how to win again. "We have to be honest and say we lost that winning mentality," concedes Sebastian Larsson, Gus Poyet's Swedish midfielder. "But we're getting it back – and we're taking positives from our record against City."
The recent statistics are quite startling, Sunderland having won the pair's past three Premier League games at the Stadium of Light 1-0. "That record gives us the belief that, if we do put in a really good performance, we can beat them," says Larsson. "That's our aim. We're desperate for points but we've won our last two home games [against Newcastle in the league and Southampton in the Capital One Cup] and we want to make it three."
This mini sequence means that, despite his new side having only one Premier League win to their name all season, Poyet has a 100% home record. "He's come in and really lifted spirits about the place," says Larsson. "It's a good place to come to work now. He's instilled a lot of belief and he wants us to play a different type of football. It won't change overnight but especially against Southampton there were signs we were improving, keeping hold of the ball better. He's been very clear in what he wants us to do."
Poyet's desire for more of a patient possession game featuring significantly improved passing saw him experiment with a 4-1-4-1 system against Southampton. "It could be the way forward," says Larsson. "Hopefully we'll be able to play a few different systems but the middle of the park is so important, we have to be solid. Most teams do play three in the middle, sometimes it's been tough when there's only two in there."
Life has frequently been challenging for Sunderland without Wes Brown, their best defender, over the past couple of years but, finally recovered from a serious knee problem, the former Manchester United centre-half is back in the first team for the first time since January 2012.
In the interim Brown variously underwent a series of controversial sugar injections in the joint last season and persuaded Paolo Di Canio otherwise when Poyet's predecessor urged him to retire during the summer. "It's a massive boost to have Wes Brown back," says Larsson. "He's a leader on the pitch, he's very confident – and as a former Man Utd player he'll be looking forward to playing against City."
So, too, is the Swedish set-piece specialist. "I made my senior debut against Manchester City for Arsenal in the League Cup at 19," recalls Larsson, who has devoted much of this week to practising a free-kick technique once lauded by Arsène Wenger. "I played left back and we won. So I started off my career by beating them."