With the international break over, Premier League football returns for Manchester United with a trip to the Stadium of Light. After taking advantage of Manchester City’s defeat at Goodison Park with a 1-0 win against Reading, the Reds have the opportunity to further extend their 15 point gap between their rivals at the top of the table.
Memories of the Red’s last away meeting with Sunderland are still raw, when a 1-0 win over the Black Cats appeared to seal their coveted twentieth Premier League Title. However a certain last-gasp winner from Sergio Aguero meant that the trophy was heading to the other side of Manchester. Hopefully the pain of last season will inspire Sir Alex’s squad to claim victory tomorrow afternoon and keep the side on course for another Premier League triumph.
The Red’s last meeting with Sunderland was back in December. Thanks to goals from RVP, Cleverley and Rooney, Fergie’s side calimed a 3-1 win over O’Neill’s team, guaranteeing top spot in the Premier League for Christmas Day. Since then United have continued with their success at the top of the table and with only nine games left to play, fans can almost taste victory.
Fergie’s main aim is to ensure that nothing will allow City to close in on his team or jeopardise their fifteen point advantage. Therefore anything but a victory tomorrow is not an option. However there is also an FA Cup replay against Chelsea for the Scotsman to consider. This again is a must-win for United, consequently his team selections over the Easter weekend will be vital.
So far there is no news of injury from players returning from the international break, therefore all should be available for selection. In addition United have a triple injury boost, with Nani, Jones and Scholes all returning to training at Carrington. This could prove fundamental as it is likely that Hernandez and Valencia will not be included due to lengthy travels thanks to the international break. However, Chicharito could appear on Monday after scoring twice for Mexico against Honduras.
The Black Cats have gone seven games without a win, taking only three points from a possible 21. The team now find themselves hovering just above the relegation zone, therefore tomorrow will be a big test for O’Neill’s team. The side are now focused on the points they need in order to avoid relegation, with manager Martin O’Neill stating that his side have to “really go for it”. Therefore Sunderland hope to achieve a Manchester double at home, after a 1-0 Boxing Day victory against Manchester City. With meetings against Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton awaiting, it is now more than ever that the side have to prove their worth in the Premier League.
Unfortunately their survival hopes have been dealt a considerable blow with the Black Cats missing four players through injury. One of which is their top scorer Steven Fletcher along with Spanish defender Cuellar who are both out for the rest of the season with ankle/foot injuries. Cattermole and ex-Manchester United player Wes Brown are also out with knee injuries and no return dates.
Some good news for the team is that Sessegnon and Vaughan could pass late fitness tests after suffering from groin/pelvis injuries in order to make the squad. With so many injuries there is the possibility for Connor Wickham starting for the Black Cats after an impressive appearance for England’s Under-21 side, scoring against Austria as well as being named man-of-the-match earlier in the week.
Leicestershire based referee Kevin Friend will be taking charge of the game. Since 2009 he has been part of the list of ‘Select Group Referees’ and has officiated games such as the 2012 Community Shield along with this years League Cup Final. This season he has taken charge of 28 games, issuing 96 yellow cards and three reds. United fans will have last seen him in a 1-0 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage.
This weekend Sunderland and Manchester United will meet for the 135th time in all competitions.
Sunderland have only beaten United once in the Premier League in 23 attempts, this was a 2-1 win at Roker Park back in March 1997.
Manchester United have now gone 537 minutes in the Premier League without conceding a goal.
Having collected 74 points from 29 games, Fergie’s side remain on course to break Chelsea’s record Premier League points tally of 95.
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