Three games, six goals scored, no goals conceded. Importantly, three games out of three won. That’s how the record stands since the defeat inflicted on United by City. It’s been the perfect response, despite some rather uncomfortable viewing. Steve Bruce brings his merry group of ex-Reds to Old Trafford – quite fitting seeing as it’s Fergie’s 25th anniversary weekend. Surely Brucey & Co. wont ruin the party…
It took Sunderland until their sixth game of the season to notch their first win at home to Stoke. Bruce’s men have found it hard going this year with poor performances leading to poor results. They have scored in every game since the 27th of August though and despite being 14th in the league they have a positive goal difference.
Bruce was backed in the summer window by former chairman Niall Quinn as he brought in nine new faces. It has to be said that whilst Fergie bleats on about ‘no value’, Bruce was able to get Westwood, Vaughan and Larsson all on frees whilst his most expensive signing was hot prospect, Conor Wickham for £8m. Meanwhile, Bruce decided to let Jordan Henderson leave for £16m which so far looks like good business by Sunderland.
Controversy hit Sunderland hard at the start of the season when star striker Asamoah Gyan decided he didn’t want to be at Sunderland and a loan to Al Ain in the UAE was hastily arranged. Hardly the ideal start to a new season.
Still, Sunderland’s four fixtures after the trip to Old Trafford are all winnable and just as the team are starting to play some better football things appear a bit more comfortable on the North-East coast. Despite the pressure Bruce is under from fans and the media, the club are behind him and no doubt Sunderland will again be looking for a mid-table finish this year. Truth is, if they get lucky with injuries they could even be forgiven for thinking they should finish a little higher than that.
Following United’s draws at Stoke and Liverpool then loss against City they’re only 6th in the form rankings with 11 points taken from the last possible 18. At home though no other team has scored more goals than United (17 in 5 games) and they’ve been comfortable in all their games with the exception of the period after Evans’ red card against City. The gap between United and City remains five points – City are at QPR this weekend.
Wayne Rooney is the league’s 2nd top scorer with 9 goals – Seb Larsson is Sunderland’s top league goalscorer with just three. Injured Ashley Young has 5 assists, the most for a United player in the league; surprisingly Nicklas Bendtner has Sunderland’s joint most assists with three, the same as Stephane Sessegnon and Larsson.
Sunderland are 14th and in their five away games they’ve W1 D2 L2, scoring 5 and conceding 5. They did win their last away game though, a good 2-0 result at Bolton which provided their first clean sheet in over a month. They come into this game having scored a late equaliser at home against Villa in a 2-2 draw; United were 1-0 winners at Everton last weekend.
United’s team news is a bit unclear given the timing of the press conference this week. Owen, Young, Giggs (although he’s back in training), Smalling and Cleverley are definitely all out whilst Rafael and Gibson have been training this week. Carrick started training again but the game may come too soon for him whilst Anderson is a doubt. Vidic should return to the starting line up though having missed the midweek Champions League game through suspension.
Westwood will definitely start in goal after Mignolet joined Gordon in the physio’s room. Angleri is a long-term absentee and there’ll be no Old Trafford return for the injured O’Shea. Vaughan and Larsson both are doubts but may still play the game. Titus Bramble is currently suspended by the club whilst he’s investigated for an off-field offence.
United formation and starting XI prediction:
There will be a couple of big decisions for Fergie to make with his selection for this game. As for the formation, at home a variation of a 4-4-2 should be the set up. I think it’ll be similar to Everton last weekend with Welbeck starting on the left but playing up high in attack with Park covering the left hand area in defence and Rooney dropping deep to help out (hence the arrows on the image above).
De Gea played midweek and despite Ferguson’s desire to give Lindegaard minutes too, David should start this game as well. At the back there are some key decisions to make. Rio was fine but largely untroubled midweek and Evra was rested following some erratic form and the death of one of his brothers. Jones is likely to continue at right back unless Rafael is ready to start a game following his injury. I’d like to see the Rio-Vidic pairing as soon as possible but Evans has been playing well (despite his red card) and he is in favour right now. He and Vidic were solid last weekend and that partnership should continue. Evra’s not been ruled out by Fergie so presuming personal issues don’t keep him out of the game I think he’ll start, failing that Fabio did fine midweek and showed some good attacking prowess.
The midfield is anyone’s guess really. Cleverley and Giggs are out whilst Carrick and Anderson have fitness question marks. Presuming neither is fit then I imagine it’ll be Fletcher with one of Jones (if Rafael is fit) or Park or Rooney. I’ve plumped for Park – his discipline and work rate were hugely important last weekend. If Carrick is fit then I’d bring him in for Park and if Anderson is fit he’d be on my bench if he’s lucky. Ashley Young’s not available and Valencia was poor midweek so with Nani back on his favoured right side I think Welbeck may be asked to help out on the left hand side again.
Rooney really is wasted in the CM area so I’d have him back in his free role behind Hernandez – he can get forward and dictate our play whilst also helping out in defence. Any surprises in store? Well I’d like to see Morrison make the bench although that is probably rather unrealistic – he didn’t come off the bench for the Reserves midweek which is maybe a sign he was being saved… it’s easy to read too much into these things but given the injuries and his cameo at Aldershot I’d like to think he’s in the manager’s thoughts despite his recent Twitter troubles (which I think were grossly blown out of proportion).
Park vs. Sessegnon – with so much focus placed on United’s central midfield area it sums up all the problems at the moment by the fact it’s like a non-central midfielder will almost certainly have to line up next to Fletcher.
The challenge that faces that player is quite a bit one. Stéphane Sessègnon (to include his accents) is playing the best football of his rather short Sunderland career so far. He’s been given something of a free role allowing him to roam in off the wings and do some damage in the middle. He’s a powerful quick player with good feet and a clever footballing brain.
It’s quite lucky in many ways then that Park could be the man he comes up against. Few footballers are as intelligent with space as Park and he seems to thrive when playing against someone with great movement. Park and Fletcher, should they line up together will have to make sure they don’t leave pockets of space because Sessegnon will find them. Nullifying him will neutralise one of Sunderland’s key men.
Of course, being at home, one would hope that United can give Sessegnon and Sunderland problems rather than the other way round but it’s worth being aware of the dangers that he poses.
History and last meeting:
This will be the 117th league meeting between the two sides – United have a winning record by some margin. In the Premier League era, 10 previous league meetings have taken place at Old Trafford with United winning eight of them and not losing any. Sunderland have only manage 4 goals in those games, United have racked up 24.
This fixture has thrown up 4 goalless draws and on four occasions Unite have scored five goals. Sunderland have scored three goals at Old Trafford four times – the last of which was 35 years ago. In December 1950 they even scored 5! Sunderland haven’t won at Old Trafford since 1968.
Last year United beat Sunderland 2-0 at Old Trafford in a dominant performance that could have been a rout. Berbatov got the first and the second was originally credited to the Bulgarian as well before going down as an own goal.
I’d love to think Brucey will come to town and let his side roll over but that won’t happen. Sunderland would love to ruin the 25th anniversary party but I can’t see it happening. United will be keen to get back in amongst the goals and put on a performance for the fans after some really poor displays. I’m going to predict an optimistic 4-0 United win.
Lee Mason – his 7th top flight game of the season. He averages just under four yellow cards a game and along with Neil Swarbrick he is the only referee to dish out more yellow cards in the first half than in the second half of games.
Where to begin? Steve Bruce is a former United league winning captain and one of the most fearsome centre backs the club have had. No less than five former Reds are in the Sunderland first team squad – Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Phil Bardsley, Kieran Richardson and Fraizer Campbell. McShane, Healy, Simpson, Evans, Keane and Higginbotham, Yorke, Cole and Miller have all been at the club within the last five years too whilst Darron Gibson was rumoured to be close to a move there this summer. Danny Welbeck will be very familiar with the goings on of Sunderland having spent last season on loan there. Finally, until as recently as April, former United coach Ricky Sbragia was also on the club’s staff.
– Darren Fletcher is one game short of 300 appearances whilst Evans would make his 100th appearance for United if he plays.
– United are one goal short of 200 league goals against Sunderland; Sunderland are two goals short of 200 goals in all competitions against United.
– Conor Wickham’s goal last weekend made him the youngest PL goalscorer so far this season.
Ferguson on Brown and O’Shea: “They were instrumental in a lot of our successes over the years. They are fantastic professionals. I love both of them in terms of their attitude and loyalty to the club.”
Bruce on the Old Trafford experience: “The message to our lads is to go and enjoy it, take them on and enjoy the challenge of playing against the best. If there is anything about you, to play at Old Trafford is the ultimate.”
Brown on returning to United: “It’ll be good; I’m really looking forward to going back to Old Trafford. Obviously I had only ever previously been at Manchester United so it will be special to go back. I will enjoy the day but I’m going back there to try and win as a Sunderland player so hopefully we can do that. It will be nice to catch up with a few people I’ve not seen for a while before and after the game but during those 90 minutes I’ll be fully focused on hopefully getting a good result for Sunderland.”
For all pre-match banter, tactical discussions, team and score predictions click here.
If it’s Fergie content you’re after then we have three offerings:
From Wilf to Big Ron: United’s managers in between the two greats
Sir Alex Ferguson – a will to win
Fergie’s last gift may be his most generous