After the last minute heroics of last week’s Manchester derby, united will be wary
of complacency on entering this weekend’s much less glamorous fixture against
Sunderland. With a seemingly straightforward winter schedule, Sir Alex will be
emphasising the importance of keeping their foot on the gas to put pressure on City
in this year’s two Club race for Premier League glory.
Unfortunately for United, they will not be able to call on old boy Wes Brown for
another own goal favour, as he is injured. Neither can they rely on a Lee Catermole
red card as he too is sidelined for this fixture. Sunderland will also be worrying
about the fitness of left-sided players Danny Rose and Adam Johnson, who both went
off injured in Sunderland’s midweek win against Reading. This would force Sunderland
into a much more functional and defensive line-up, with John O’Shea likely to be
matching down the wing from left back if Rose doesn’t make the starting XI. However,
there is some good news for Martin O’Neil, as top scorer Steven Fletcher will most
probably be fit; and the Scottish striker will be looking to evoke his previous
performance at Old Trafford, when he netted for Wolves in the league.
For Manchester United, the big news is that Vidic will return to the starting line
up after 3 months out. Fergie will be keen to rest players, with United playing 5
games in 17 games over the tough Christmas period. As a result, Fletcher could make
his 200th league appearance and 250th start for the Red Devils. Despite temptation,
Sir Alex would be unwise to split up the fairytale partnership of Wayne Rooney and
Robin van Persie, who have scored 7 goals between them in their last 3 starts
together. If the two start together, Hernandez might have to make his 100th United
appearance from the bench.
As with most Premier League teams, Sunderland haven’t had the best of times at Old
Trafford, going 25 games without a single win. In fact, if you include both home and
away results, this is United’s longest active unbeaten run against a club in the top
flight. This fact, coupled with Fergie’s assertion that he would ‘not forget’
Sunderland’s fans delight and celebration upon hearing United had lost the title on
the last day of the season could make the Black Cats’ afternoon very awkward. If
they needed any more encouragement, what more inspiration could be needed knowing
that a win would leave United top on Boxing Day. With Sunderland’s midfield
particularly lightweight, United will look to exert their domination through
Carrick, although their narrowness could cause another tight game. For Sunderland,
their focal point will be McClean, who will hope to use his power and pace to open
up chances for Steven Fletcher.
Manchester United are yet to register their customary loss against underwhelming
opposition, a tough trip to the canaries not withstanding; but with Rooney and van
Persie in dream like form, this defeat surely won’t come this weekend, will it? I
think not, and will go for a tight 2-0 to United.