Sunderland are in trouble. Big trouble. With only one win since Christmas and having collected only six points since the festive period came to an end, Moyes’ team face almost insurmountable odds as they aim to climb off the foot of the table and avoid the jaws of relegation which surrounds them. With only twenty points to their name, Sunderland are ten points away from safety with eight games remaining as the teams above them continue to widen the gap with almost every round of fixtures. Facing the impossible dream, Moyes must now face his former club where his spell was also considered to be less than successful by their fans.
United travel to Sunderland with the third best away record in the league and aspirations of again elevating themselves above sixth position in the league. Mourinho’s team have the second-best defensive record in the Premier League and are facing a team struggling for goals which suggests that it will be an easy game for United, however, van Gaal probably thought this last season before he watched his side fall to a deserved 2-1 loss. While Moyes is not having the same effect at Sunderland that Allardyce enjoyed, he will be hoping that some inside knowledge of his opponents is enough to help steer his side to a shock win that might, just might, help them edge away from the bottom of the league.
LAST TIME OUT
Leicester City 2 – 0 SUNDERLAND
Sunderland’s anguish continues as they failed to trouble a Foxes side that tore through the Black Cats. The first half began with a relative amount of parity to proceedings and both teams had good chances through their strikers. As the teams entered the break still on level terms, Sunderland had enjoyed much of the better play despite Leicester creating their own good opportunities through quick counter-attacking moves. As the second half got under way, it was a similar pattern of Sunderland not being effective in the final third of the pitch and Leicester dealt well with any of their attacks before finding a goal to give them the lead in the 69th minute. A surge down the left wing from Albrighton finished with a cross into the box that Slimani managed to glance past the Sunderland keeper. Sunderland almost replied when Anichebe sent a shot against the post but with the Foxes tails now up, Leicester grabbed a second in the 78th minute when Albrighton again created a goal, this time for Vardy to fire emphatically into the roof of the net and seal all three points for the home team.
MANCHESTER UNITED 1 – 1 Everton
United left it late to rescue a point as they struggled for fluidity against an organised Everton side. United were the team to create the early pressure at Old Trafford with Rashford looking lively and Ibrahimovic being thwarted at the last by Williams in the 5th minute and Lingard shooting just wide in the 12th. It was Everton who took the lead in the 22nd minute though when Phil Jagielka held off a challenge by Rojo and managed to flick the ball through de Gea’s legs with his back to goal. Blind saw a well-hit free-kick saved brilliantly by Robles on the half-hour mark which left Herrera to send the rebound against the bar but United were unable to take any of their opportunities. It was much the same in the second half when first Ibrahimovic had a goal disallowed for offside before Pogba hit the crossbar and then Rojo and Ibrahimovic again had good chances from headers, but the game flew into life during injury time when Everton had Williams dismissed from the field for handball that gave a penalty for Ibrahimovic to convert and rescue a point for the home team.
Sunderland will be without Paddy McNair (knee), Steven Pienaar (calf), Duncan Watmore (knee) and Jan Kirchhoff (knee), while Adnan Januzaj is ineligible to face his parent club and John O’Shea, is being granted time off after the passing of his father.
Manchester United Lineup
United are still without the injured Phil Jones (toe), Chris Smalling (knock) and Juan Mata (groin) while they’re also joined by Ashley Young (knock) and Wayne Rooney (ankle) who will be unavailable for the trip to the North-East.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Not fit for the Premiership
It was a familiar story for Sunderland again during their defeat against Leicester, when they held their opponents level for the first hour before submitting and being rolled over. While this may point to a problem in mentality, of crumbling against the hope of pulling a goal back when falling behind, it too may point to a lack of fitness levels at the club. While several of their players are known to be injury-prone and so possibly facing an uphill struggle to play at the highest level for the full 90 minutes, it’s worth noting that twenty-four of the fifty-three goals they’ve conceded have been in the final half an hour, with a further eleven lost just before half-time.
Reliance on a main striker
Sunderland have failed to find the net during the past six games, a run which stretches over two months now for the Black cats. Unlike United who have coped with Ibrahimovic’s absence from the side, Sunderland’s reliance on Jermain Defoe has been greatly exposed recently with the team unable to find goals during the striker’s barren spell. While both players are expected to line-up against each other this weekend, both forwards again carry the majority of their team’s goal threat on their shoulders as they look to fire their respective sides to victory at the Stadium of Light.
Return of the Pog
After playing the second half of the game against Everton, Paul Pogba is making his return from injury and is likely to find himself back in the first eleven for this trip to Sunderland. Facing the inevitable scrutiny that a high transfer fee brings to a Premiership footballer, Pogba may not have set the English League on fire since his return to United but the young midfielder has been one of Mourinho’s most used players this term and his all-round attributes have helped steady a United midfield that has lacked character in recent seasons with a passing accuracy above 85% from a player who always demands the ball from his colleagues.
PREDICTION: Sunderland 0 – 5 Manchester United
While Mourinho has admitted recently that too many points have been lost to drawn games this season, this has been largely against teams who have set themselves up defensively and United will undoubtedly be given a similar test this weekend. Having scored in each of their previous eight games on the road and playing a team that hasn’t scored anywhere in the world except their own training ground (allegedly) for over two months, United should cruise to a victory against a team destined for the Championship and I can see this being either a cagey one-nil win or a landslide victory to United.