Old Trafford, Manchester
December 15, 15:00 GMT
Buoyed by a huge derby day victory, Manchester United welcome Sunderland to the theatre of Dreams and the word revenge has been mentioned among the United circles. Sir Alex had himself talked about remembering the over the top celebrations by Sunderland fans at the Stadium of Light on that fateful May Day. Martin O’Neil though has bigger concerns. The Black Cats are embroiled in the relegation dogfight and although the midweek win against fellow strugglers Reading was met with a huge sigh of relief, O’Neil knows they must continue to improve and climb up the table.
Manchester United are in a healthy state both in terms of the league position and the return of major players from long term absence. The triumph at Etihad was a major boon as it lifted United six points clear of City and surely must have dented their neighbors’ resolve. Furthermore, the win could serve as a huge fillip going into the hectic festive period but Ferguson must ensure there is no room for complacency in the squad.
Sunderland have been surprisingly dour and uninspiring so far and that has reflected in their league position. O’Neil has lacked firepower upfront with Sessegnon being a shadow of his former self, although he has shown glimpses of getting his mojo back. The squad has been heavily reliant on Steven Fletcher so far and that is a grave cause for concern. But the midweek win must give the squad much needed confidence, although that might not be enough against the league leaders.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Sir Alex Ferguson will be a very happy man going into the game with a healthy lead at the top of the table but more so due to the fitness of his squad. Captain Nemanja Vidic is set to return while Shinji Kagawa and Nani are closer to full fitness. This leaves Anderson and Jonny Evans as the only two players out injured who are both expected to be sidelined for at least couple of weeks more. Bearing in mind the injury problems the manager had to deal with all the season, availability of an almost full-strength squad is an ominous sign for the chasing pack ahead of the festive period.
With Evans injured, Vidic is set to return to the starting line-up, however, it will also be interesting to see if the manager opts to rest Rio Ferdinand as well ahead of a hectic period. If that is the case, Chris Smalling is likely to get his chance in the center of defence alongside Vidic while Rafael and Evra, as usual, will be taking up the full-back duties. The front six for United are likely to be the same that did an excellent job at the Etihad stadium last weekend. However, if one goes by the manager’s words in his press conference, Ferdinand will take the central defence alongside one of Vidic or Smalling.
Having said that, the team will show much more attacking intent in this game than they did against their local rivals. Cleverley is expected to be much further forward than he was against the Blues and will be looking to dictate the game rather than absorb the pressure from the opponents. Cleverley’s forward position will in-turn help Rooney to be much further forward as well and he will be seen linking-up with Robin van Persie a lot more than he does in the tough away fixtures for Manchester United.
Antonio Valencia, like always, will be hugging the right touchline while Ashley Young will take the left flank but he will be drifting in a lot more than his team-mate from Ecuador. Rafael and Evra will be linking-up well with the two wingers and will play a crucial role for United in the attacking third.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Cleverley; Valencia, Rooney, Young; van Persie
Martin O’Neill will be sweating on the injury to a few of his players ahead of this big game at Old Trafford. Defender Phil Bardsley is ruled out of the game due to the ligament damage suffered in the game against Reading while Adam Johnson is also a major doubt for the trip to Manchester due to an ankle problem suffered in midweek. However, the biggest concern for the manager is the fitness of the loan star from Tottenham – Danny Rose, who has been brilliant for the Black Cats all season long. The left-back was withdrawn before the end of the game against Royals, but there is optimism in the Sunderland camp regarding his recovery ahead of Saturday’s game. Apart from the trio, Wes Brown and Lee Cattermole continue to be long term absentees.
John O’Shea and Carlos Cuellar will be in central defence for the visitors and will be expected to be on top of their game against the vastly talented attack of their hosts. However, both players will be crucial for their team’s attacks through set-pieces as Sunderland will be looking to take advantage of United’s problems in dealing with them, especially corners. Danny Rose will be the left-back while Craig Gardner will take up the right-back responsibility but the latter is not expected to go too far forward while Danny Rose will be helping James McClean in his team’s attacks down the left-hand side.
Jack Colback and Seb Larsson will be controlling the central midfield for the away team while James McCelan and David Vaughan are likely to be the men on the flanks. Johnson’s injury might force the manager to use Vaughan on the right side of midfield, but the Welshman will be looking to be more central than on the wing which will make the Black Cats a bit narrow from the right side. However, McClean will be looking to stretch the United defence from the left flank and his partnership with Rose could cause problems for the home side’s defence.
Up front, it will be Steven Fletcher leading the line for the Black Cats while Sessegnon will be playing behind the striker as the bridge between the striker and the midfield. Most of the Sunderland attacks are likely to go through the Beninese and the onus will be upon Michael Carrick to reduce his influence as often as possible or it could prove to be costly for the Red Devils.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-1-1): Mignolet, Gardner, Cuellar, O’Shea, Rose; Vaughan, Colback, Larsson, McClean; Sessegnon; Fletcher
- Manchester United are unbeaten in the last 20 league games against Sudnerland.
- The Black Cats have not scored in the last five league games against the Red Devils.
- Sunderland have won just three out of their last twenty-two league games.
- United’s win will give them their tenth win the last eleven league games and assure them the top spot at Christmas.
Player To Watch Out For
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Wayne Rooney is a slight doubt for this one but still gets our nod as the man to keep an eye on. Rooney has scored 4 in his last 2 league games and looks to be getting back to his menacing best. Furthermore, Wazza had earmarked this fixture for retribution and he would be looking to put the Black Cats to the sword at the Theatre of Dreams. The former Everton man is the lynch-pin of most United attacks and his importance to this team irrespective of his playing position is second to none.
Manchester United 4-1 Sunderland
United have been scoring for fun in the Premier League this season with 40 goals in just 16 games despite firing a blank in a couple of games. Sunderland, on the other hand, have been struggling to say the least and will surprise most if they get anything out of the game. The Red Devils are expected to run rampant in this one with the Black Cats likely to get a mere consolation.
Blast From The Past