It’ll be a reunion at the Stadium of Light on Saturday when Manchester United take on Sunderland. United legend Steve Bruce is now the manager for The Black Cats, and the former defender has recruited many players from his old employers. Former players such as Kieran Richardson, Phil Bardsley, and Fraizer Campbell are now on the books at the Stadium of Light, although Campbell has been ruled out due to injury. Also, current United youngster Danny Welbeck is on loan with Brucie’s side, but will be ineligible to compete against his parent club.
United have struggled with away form this season, although they’ve seemingly gotten back on track with a crucial victory against Valencia in Spain. The fixture at the Stadium of Light will provide United an opportunity to prove they’ve left their struggles away from home in the past.
Sunderland have gotten off to a decent start to the season and currently occupy 11th place in the Premier League. Though only in a mid-table position, a win against Manchester City and draw against Liverpool prove that Sunderland are a capable adversary. With United’s current record away from home in the Premier League, a trip to Sunderland could present a serious problem.
You can’t discuss Sunderland without mentioning Darren Bent. The England striker managed to amass 24 goals last campaign despite his club’s relatively poor season, and this season he’s already scored five in six matches. The back four will have to forget the recent defensive struggles and play with confidence if United are to leave with three points.
Speaking of the defense, I’m assuming Edwin van der Sar will keep his job between the posts for the match this weekend. Assuming both are fit, I would expect Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic to continue rebuilding their partnership in the heart of the defense. I’m going with a somewhat bold prediction and saying the twins will occupy the full back positions. Rafael demonstrated why he deserves to be the first-choice right back with his performance against Valencia in the mid-week, and should rewarded with another start by Sir Alex. It’s not often that Patrice Evra is not involved, but he’s suffered a slight dip in form and the gaffer may choose to rest him with Fabio deputizing at left back. There is some concern fielding a slightly inexperienced back four when the opposing strike force includes Darren Bent, but I’m sure this defense would be more than capable of keeping a clean sheet while also contributing to attack.
The midfield becomes more and more difficult to predict with each passing day. First-choice midfielders Antonio Valencia and Paul Scholes are both sidelined, and the depth in midfield has also taken a blow with Ryan Giggs and Owen Hargreaves also ruled out. I would guess that Nani and Park Ji-Sung would occupy the wings since they’re really the only two wingers we have available presently. Darren Fletcher seems like a certainty in midfield, while Anderson’s performance against Valencia should earn him another chance in the starting XI. I also wouldn’t rule out Bebe making an substitute appearance at some point. United’s newest signing traveled with the squad to Spain this week, and though he did not make the final team it seems Sir Alex is starting to put some faith in him. With the current lack of depth for wingers, Bebe may get his first taste of Premier League action.
Finally, we have the forwards. Wayne Rooney is out for the next 2-3 weeks, although Steve Bruce says he wouldn’t be shocked if the England striker was selected. I’m trusting Sir Alex and assuming that Rooney will play no part against Sunderland. The other four strikers are in good form right now, which makes selecting two a challenge. Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen have both been scoring goals this season, while Federico Macheda and Chicharito linked up beautifully for the winner against Valencia. At this point I think Berbatov has become somewhat undroppable, so I predict he’ll be involved from the start. As a reward for his goal on Wednesday, I think the Bulgarian will be partnered by Chicharito. Though, should we be in need of goals as time runs out, Owen and Macheda are both fantastic threats coming off the bench.
With Chelsea and Arsenal facing each other on Sunday, there is a good chance the current league leaders could drop points. If this is the case, United need to take advantage of that opportunity. Securing all three points against Sunderland would heap the pressure on Chelsea for Arsenal’s visit to Stamford Bridge. It’s still early days in the Premier League, but United cannot afford to fall any further behind the defending champions. While maybe not the biggest of fixtures, a win at the Stadium of Light would be a huge boost to United’s title chances.
I think United will be more than capable of getting the result against Sunderland, even in the absence of Rooney and Scholes. His goal against Valencia may have opened the floodgates for Chicharito, so expect to see a goal from the young Mexican. Nani has improved his game drastically in the past 12 months and has already bagged two goals this season, and I look for him to add to that tally on Saturday. I think there will be a third and final goal for United coming from Anderson. The Brazilian has only scored one competitive goal in his time at Old Trafford, so it may be a long shot, but he seemed to be getting into more advanced roles against Valencia. If he continues to do so I believe he’ll get himself a goal this weekend. At the opposite end of the field, I anticipate United will earn themselves a second consecutive clean sheet.
Prediction: Sunderland 0, United 3
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