Stadium Of Light, Sunderland
May 13, 2012; 14:00 hours GMT
This is it, the final game of the season and still all to play for as Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light with a faint ray of retaining their prized asset – the Premier League crown. Sir Alex knows the horse has bolted and the destiny is out of their hands which is never a good sign going into the final day of the season. While miracles do happen, the possibility of one such minor marvel happening at the Etihad is fairly remote and hence this game could very well count to nothing in the end. But, United must believe until the proverbial fat lady sings and do their bit; a win against the Black Cats would see them lift the League title if ‘something stupid‘ happens and City fails to grab all three points.
Martin O’Neil’s Sunderland have nothing much to play for but pride and after their integrity was questioned by the City manager. The Sunderland players will leave no stone unturned to prove the Italian wrong and put in a hard working performance more so for their own set of fans who have supported them throughout the season. Also, this game pits a couple of former United players against their beloved club and despite the obvious admiration for their former club, they would be looking to prove a point or two.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Martin O’Neill is facing a few injury problems going into the final game of the season. Sebastian Larsson has missed the run-in due to a hernia operation and is hoping to be fit for the Euros, but will be definitely out for this game. Also missing are Connor Wickham and former Old Trafford boy Richardson but Wes Brown has returned to training after missing most of the season through a knee-injury. However, the game comes too soon for the ex-United star and is unlikely to be named in the squad. The good news though, is that Titus Bramble is ready for selection and is expected to play on Sunday.
The manager has been left short of options at the back with injuries to Richardson, Brown and Bramble and it has shown in recent weeks as the Sunderland defence has looked very permeable. But with Bramble back, O’Neill will look to start him alongside Turner and hope for some solidity at the back. Bardsley and O’Shea will in for a really tough game against the United wingers, but they could be seen making runs into the United half and keeping the visitors pecked back.
The central midfield will comprise of Jack Colback and Lee Cattermole with both players deployed as deep-lying playmakers as they will be standing hard up against the United midfielders and at the same time looking to bring Sessegnon and the wingers into play. Gardner and McClean will play on the flanks, but most Sunderland attacks will build from McClean’s side.
Up-front it will be Nicklas Bendtner playing his last game in Sunderland colours unless they sign him on a permanent basis at the end of the season. He will be relishing his battle against a half-fit Ferdinand and error-prone Phil Jones and will be well supported by Sessegnon who has been the main man for the Black Cats this season.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-1-1) : Mignolet (GK); Bardsley, Bramble, Turner, O’Shea; McClean, Cattermole, Colback, Gardner; Sessegnon; Bendtner
Sir Alex is facing a minor injury crisis going into the final game. Jonny Evans and Danny Welbeck have both been ruled out to face their former club (both were loaned to Sunderland), but the biggest blow for United and England is the groin injury to Chris Smalling which rules his out for the Euros. The rest of the team is available apart from those that have already been ruled out for the season.
Phil Jones is certain to partner Rio Ferdinand at the back and both have to be on the top of their game against a Sunderland side who are more than handful on their home turf. They will be flanked by Rafael and Evra with both of them looking to be part of the attack on every opportunity keeping the Sunderland wingers in their own half in the process.
The midfield is likely to be the same that performed admirably against Swansea last weekend with Young and Valencia playing wide to Carrick and Scholes, who will be anchoring the midfield and trying to dictate the game. The wingers, as always, are going to be the focal point of most of the attacks and their battle against the Sunderland full-backs might turn out to be the deciding factor in the game.
Javier Hernandez will be leading the line in the absence of Welbeck with Wayne Rooney playing behind him bridging the gap between him and the midfield men.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-1-1) : De Gea(GK); Rafael, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Young; Rooney; Hernandez
Key Match Facts
- Sunderland have won just two of their last twelve games with half of those finishing at 0-0.
- The Black Cats have not scored against Manchester United in their last four meetings. However, they have scored three own goals in the last five games.
- Sunderland have conceded the highest (27) percentage of headed goals in the league this season. United are joint top in terms of most headers scored (15).
- United have not won a game this season after conceding the first goal.
- Manchester United could become the first team to score ninety goals (if they score two) and not win the title.
TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out For
The Beninese has been voted Sunderland’s player of the year and rightly so as he has surely been the difference between his team lying in mid table and fighting for relegation. He tops the assists chart and is also second on the scorers list for the Black Cats this season. Once again, he will be the fulcrum for the home side and is certain to cause trouble to a makeshift United defence.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
The former Evertonian has been in brilliant scoring form all season and is now just two short of making it the best season of his career. Also, if he does manage to get a brace, it will take him to 200 career club goals. Although it won’t be easy for him and United at the Stadium of Light, one thing is for sure – Rooney will be the last person to lose hope before the final whistle and his determination could spur him on to make it a torrid evening for the Sunderland back four.
Sunderland 1-1 Manchester United
The events at the Etihad might have a big say in the result of this game. With City likely to get a win against QPR and clinch the title, the news of them taking the lead will deflate the United players and in the end they could struggle to win the game. However, miracles have happened in football before and any such news from Manchester could bring misery for the home side.
TheHardTackle’s Blast From The Past