Wayne Rooney scores against Sunderland on the final day of last season
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We welcome Sunderland to Old Trafford on Saturday, looking to build on Sunday’s fantastic result at The Etihad and at least maintain our 6 point advantage over Man City. Fresh in the memory of the players and fans will be Sunderland fans ‘doing the Poznan’ celebration at the end of last season as City clinched the title at the death. Whilst revenge shouldn’t be the motivating factor for the win this Saturday it is essential we continue Sunday’s form against a Sunderland side buoyed by a comprehensive win over Reading in midweek. Here we discuss the match preview, lineups and injury news – welcoming comments from both sets of fans.
A view from the opposition
What do you make of Sunderland’s season so far?
Very disjointed to say the least. Performances earlier in the season just simply weren’t up to scratch and the results have reflected that. There was a worrying lack of drive and desire within the side which was especially concerning given that Sunderland are normally a side which at the very least are expected to be fully committed to the cause.
Confidence has been non-existant at times as well. The likes of Adam Johnson, James McClean and Stephane Sessegnon have especially struggled in that respect and when the unit we expect and rely upon to carve out the chances for Steven Fletcher simply aren’t able to string two passes together the side was always going to struggle for results.
Defensively we have been relatively solid which is particularly pleasing given the injuries we have sustained at the back which have forced O’Neill to shuffle his pack on a number of occasions, often having to play midfielders like Jack Colback and Craig Gardner in the fullback positions.
However, of late there have been some positive signs that the side is finally beginning to “click”. McClean and Johnson are putting in performances befitting of their reputation, Stephane Sessegnon is looking like the menace to defences he was last term and Steven Fletcher is simply ruthless in front of goal when given the opportunity.
We still have a massive hole in the centre of our midfield however which has only been made even more apparent following the loss of Lee Cattermole through injury. Whilst our skipper has garnered a less than flattering reputation with opposition fans, his importance to this Sunderland team should not be underestimated.
Is Martin O’Neil the right man for Sunderland?
Absolutely. Recently the press have been attempting to stir the pot a little with regards to his tenure at the club, reporting unrest on the terraces when actually nothing could be further from the truth. It’s hard to explain, O’Neill and Sunderland just fit. I don’t know if it is the comparisons to Brian Clough, a man who was quoted as saying “I’d crawl over broken glass to manage Sunderland” but O’Neill is a manager that many Sunderland fans have yearned for years. We would be mad to give him the push now without allowing him the time to add to the team and mould the squad in his vision.
Sure the results and performances have been testing and often hard to watch this year but the general consensus is that the players are to blame rather than any fingers being pointed at the dugout and we are on the verge of kicking on.
If you could give him one piece of advise, what would it be?
Be a little more adventurous. Sometimes we seem to set out not to lose games and remain a stubborn side that is hard to break down. Whilst this is all well and good in certain fixtures I would like to see us utilise our attacking options more often, especially at home. We have enough talent behind Steven Fletcher to cause sides problems, I would just like to see us play with a little more pace and swagger, taking the game to the opposition rather than look to catch teams on the counter which is more often than not O’Neill’s default strategy.
What did you make of the James McClean poppy row?
Cheers for dropping me in the middle of this political minefield!
Nothing more than a storm in a teacup to be honest. Little was reported of McClean’s background in Northern Island, having been born and raised in Creggan – a suburb of Derry and close to Bogside – the site of “Bloody Sunday”. James, whilst not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, is openly proud of his roots and will have grown up with stories of that day which may explain why he chose not to wear a shirt emblazoned with the poppy.
Whilst I personally choose to support the appeal this is something I believe should not and cannot be enforced. McClean is just as welcome to his decision not to wear the poppy as I am my choice to wear one. Also, people just love to be offended these days don’t they!?
What do you make of United this season?
Whilst looking relatively weak, for a Manchester United side at least, at the back this term, you always look like outscoring your opponents. For that reason I have thoroughly enjoyed watching your games this year. Manchester United simply have a winning mentality that is seemingly instilled into the very core of the club. Even when going behind this year only a fool would write you off from going on to win the game. I do believe that some investment is required with a number of players entering, or already surpassing, their twilight years but you have to back Fergie to bring in the right personnel.
I was disappointed to see Kagawa pick up an injury when he did. He is a player I have admired since he came to light in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund. The lad has such great vision and awareness and has undoubtedly been a big miss for your side.
Sunderland seem to take on a lot of ex-Reds. If you could take one player from the current United squad, who would it be?
Whilst he might not be our biggest fan since the dramatic climax to last season and the antics of some of our fans, Wayne Rooney would be my pick. We are crying out for someone to get ahold of the ball in the middle of the park, dictate the game, drive forward and look to make things happen, something Rooney is becoming more and more adept at the longer he plays in his “new” position.
Who is the greatest Sunderland player of all time?
Charlie Hurley. You don’t earn yourself a nickname such as “The King” without being pretty decent I suppose. The central defender still to this day has an incredible influence on the football club; our old training ground before the move to the academy was named after him, Niall Quinn renamed the chairman’s suite at the Stadium of Light in his honour and tales of his exploits hold just as much fervour as they ever had.
Obviously Hurley is a bit before my time, so of the modern era, Kevin Phillips is probably the player who has captured my imagination the most. This little fella was sensational. To win the European Golden Boot whilst playing for Sunderland, still the only Englishman to manage this feat, was simply incredible.
What is your favourite memory of a Sunderland vs. Manchester United match?
It would have to be the 2-1 victory in 1997 at Roker Park. This was one of my first full seasons as a Sunderland fan and I can vividly remember being in absolute awe of the likes of David Beckham, Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona wh,. Despite all the talk on the pre-match walk to the ground amongst my dad’s friends as to how many Manchester United would stick past our hapless lot we somehow conjured up a memorable victory.
Thanks to David for his time, be sure to follow him on Twitter.
Manchester United are missing Anderson, who is suffering with a hamstring injury picked up in the 4-3 victory over Reading. He, Nani and Evans are the only definite non starters with the rest of the squad now back in training. Tom Cleverley finished the derby with minor knocks so its possible Sir Alex may use the opportunity to rotate the team. Wayne Rooney was reported to be feeling unwell but looks likely to line up in the starting XI. Both Vidic and Kagawa have returned to full training with the Serb likely to play some part in the game.
Sunderland have Lee Cattermole and Wes Brown definitely missing the clash. Adam Johnson, Phil Bardsley and Danny Rose all suffered knocks in the 3-0 win over Reading so are touch and go for the side.
Manchester United team and tactics to face Sunderland
It’s likely we will see a few changes to the line up that started the game against Man City. We’re about to embark on a busy period and this game would appear to be a good one to get some players rested in advance of the mad rush. Sir Alex has already suggested that Nemanja Vidic will return to at least the bench so its possible that Ferdinand will be rested, this would allow Vidic and Smalling to get valuable starts under their belt. It wouldn’t be surprising if one of Evra and Rafael get a rest with Jones/Buttner available to step in. Scholes hasn’t featured for a little while and could started instead of Cleverley in midfield, and following the surprise start for Valencia against City he could take a place on the bench. Rooney and Van Persie are almost certain to continue up front but one of Hernandez or Welbeck may be asked to do a job in a wide berth.
Tactics sheet: How United could line-up
Strong backline to set tone
United have kept 9 clean sheets in the last 11 matches against Sunderland and a rearguard strengthened by the return of captain Vidic should have enough about it to nullify the threat of Sunderland going forward. Sunderland have struggled to score many goals but for Steven Fletcher, a pairing of Vidic and Smalling at the back should have the height and strength required to keep him quiet. Just behind Fletcher will see Sessegnon, McClean and Johnson looking to play off any knock downs Fletcher can provide. Carrick and Scholes playing just in front of the United defence should hopefully limit any space for them to work in and coupled with the good form of the fullbacks currently, I would back both to keep the wingers quiet.
Pace and movement in final third to bamboozle Sunderland
Sunderland’s back line appears to be more about power and size rather than pace. Not having the combative Cattermole in midfield may leave them exposed to incisive, fast passing play. A forward four of Rooney, Van Persie, Young and Welbeck would be difficult for most teams to handle but their movement could leave Sunderland badly exposed and also likely to give away dead ball situations in the final third. If United are unable to find a way through with the ball in open play it’s likely Sunderland will concede set pieces and dead balls in areas that United can exploit. The joy we’ve found from corners this season may just provide a goal or two tomorrow.
Rooneys performances in the last two league games against Man City and Reading have shown a player who is gaining confidence in the role he is currently playing. The late run into the box for his second against Man City was reminiscent of a younger Paul Scholes and as his relationship with Van Persie develops and overall match fitness hits peak levels he can only continue to improve. The movement of Van Persie and the wide players tomorrow should provide plenty of space for Rooney to control the game and it would not be a surprise to see him again hit the back of the net. Whilst Van Persie is technically a more beautiful player to watch in full flight, it’s Rooney and his industry, presence and imagination that the side seems to operate better on when he is in the team. More of the same please Wayne.
It’s vital we push on now and build on what was a superb result last weekend. With the form and confidence the side are showing right now it’s hard to look past a comprehensive win for the Reds. The stats would also suggest that we are in for a game with plenty of goals. Sunderland have been involved in games with over 2.5 goals in six of their last seven games whilst United have scored over 2.5 goals in thirteen of their last fifteen Premier League games. The game is likely to be won on how well United’s forwards link up and the reduction of mistakes in defensive areas.
A mature and confident performance is needed and the images of Sunderland fans celebrating the end of last season is something we don’t want to see again. My own personal prediction is a 4-1 win with another goal or two for Rooney.
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