United look to close gap on City with win over bottom Sunderland

Falcao is taken down in the box against Sunderland last season
There was controversy last year when referee Roger East sent off Wes Brown instead of John O’Shea

Manchester United welcome bottom club Sunderland to Old Trafford as Louis van Gaal’s men look to close the two point gap with league leaders Manchester City. United go into the game off the back of a win against Southampton last weekend at St Mary’s and a win against Ipswich in the league cup midweek. Wayne Rooney netted his first goal for United against the Championship club in the League Cup on Wednesday, whilst new signing Anthony Martial continued his goal scoring form.

United’s visitors this afternoon are in poor form, rock bottom of the Premier League without a win all season. Dick Advocaat, who was once a teammate of United manager Louis van Gaal, has been highly critical of this Sunderland team so far this season and suggested in his press conference that a draw would be a “great result” this afternoon. The visitors last win in the league came on May 9th last season with a 2-0 win over Everton.


  • Manchester United have played Sunderland 141 times, the 9th most played club.
  • Wayne Rooney is three goals (234) behind Denis Law (237) in the all time goals scorers for the club
  • United have only conceded one goal at home so far this season – Christian Benteke’s strike for Liverpool

View from the opposition

We have a great view from the opposition with David Boyle, who writes for The Metro. We spoke about Sunderland’s abysmal start for the season, whether United can launch a title charge and who did he pluck for in his all time Manchester United dream team!? You’ll be surprised! You can follow David on Twitter @davidboyle1985.

1. What has happened to Sunderland this season?

How long have you got?

Despite some heavy defeats at times last season, Sunderland, overall, were fairly resolute defensively. Especially following the arrival of Dick Advocaat towards the end of the campaign, the team seemed well organised, well drilled and from these solid foundations were able to secure the results required to stave off relegation.

However, despite the additions of Younes Kaboul, Celtic RB and the return of Sebastian Coates on a permanent deal, transfers we expected to bolster the rear guard, Sunderland look shambolic defensively this year, which is particularly frustrating as a fan as this seemed to be a part of Sunderland’s game that Advocaat had under control.

Whilst John O’Shea is a topic of differing opinion on Wearside, there does seem to be some weight behind an argument that Advocaat may well have dropped the former Manchester United man too soon. Sure, O’Shea is no spring chicken and is liable to the odd mistake here and there in the twilight of his career, however his experience and ability to marshal the back four was maybe underestimated by Advocaat.

At the opposite end of the field, Sunderland look lively if ineffective. Jeremain Lens was an exciting summer addition and has brought some much needed pace, flair and a desire to run at defenders to what was a meek forward line last term. However, the Dutchman is yet to find that final, telling, killer ball which, hopefully, will come as he finds his feet in the Premier League.

Fabio Borini has also brought some enthusiasm and willingness to run the channels, allowing Jermain Defoe to play a more central role which better suits his style, however the goals aren’t coming as easily as you would hope. Take the Spurs’ defeat for example. Sunderland had much the better of the chances, however we were made to pay for not making them count and lost the game by a solitary goal when we should have been two goals to the good at half time that afternoon.

2. Should Dick Advocaat have left at the end of last season and was GP sacked too soon?

The summer was one Sunderland seemed to spend lustfully chasing their adored desires, embarking on prolonged pursuits of both Dick Advocaat and Fabio Borini, ultimately winning both over and convincing them to stay.

It was no secret that Ellis Short desperately wanted Advocaat to stay and if the money raised by the fans to thank Mrs. Advocaat for “allowing” her husband to prolong his career by a year was anything to go by, the fans were in agreement.
Whilst there are certainly no audible voices of great discontent from the stands at present, as is part and parcel of the game, it will only be a matter of time before some serious questions have to be asked if the results do not begin to improve.

Unfortunately for Advocaat, the upcoming run of games is not exactly favourable and will be a real, genuine test of his stewardship of the club.

Gus Poyet, much like his successor, was a likable chap and quickly built a good rapport with the Sunderland fans who will always look back on his brief tenure somewhat wistfully thanks to that incredible Capital One Cup run, which, let’s be honest, is pretty much once in a lifetime stuff for fans of a club like Sunderland.

However, Poyet was seemingly unable to transfer that momentum into the league and was hell-bent on moulding what was a pretty poor squad into one that was capable of playing a possession based system based on nice, neat and tidy passing of the ball. When this plan came unstuck, there was no apparent “Plan B”.

Whilst every Sunderland fan will wish Poyet all the best wherever he ends up next, it was probably the right decision at the right time, if only on reflection of the results Advocaat achieved as his replacement.

3. How would you sum up the performances of the ex-Manchester United boys over the past few years?

Solid, if unspectacular – but that could pretty much be the title of both John O’Shea and his partner in crime, Wes Brown’s autobiography.

O’Shea is a bit of a marmite player these days, however his leadership and experience is priceless to a side like Sunderland. That said, I find it hard to imagine him able to play at this level next season, however he would probably still be a decent option for a Championship side…

Wes Brown is as good as retired these days, wheeled out by the club for press coverage and corporate events – quite why the club extended his contract, given his injuries and stage of his career, is a mystery.

4. Who has been the worst player for you so far this season?

Patrick van Aanholt, by a country mile.

The Dutch fullback is perhaps the biggest enigma of this whole mess at present, having suffered one of the biggest falls from grace since James McClean.

Last season van Aanholt was one of the first names on the team sheet, unquestionably. Sure, he is, or at least was, a very attack minded wing back which often left us exposed on the left wing but with this he was one of the only players Sunderland had in their ranks that brought pace to an attack.

Fast forward to this year and he appears to be suffering from a monumental loss of confidence, no longer willing to carry the ball forward, turning back and relinquishing responsibility of the ball back to a central defender having found himself ten or fifteen yards inside the opposition’s half being a particular frustration.

However, what is perhaps even more maddening is that Sunderland, having failed to bring in any direct competition, have no other option but to play him.

In fairness to PvA, Jeremain Lens, who has often been utilised ahead of him on the left wing, shows absolutely no intent of even stepping foot in his own half which makes it extremely easy for opposition teams to run riot down that flank, however this excuse merely papers over some worrying cracks.

5. What have you made of United so far this season? Title contenders?

Without wanting to sound like Brendan Rodgers, I think after spending over £110m during the summer and, perhaps most importantly, retaining the services of David de Gea, you would be foolish to count out van Gaal’s side.

The results also seem to be coming, perhaps not with the panache that we are perhaps accustomed to seeing from a Manchester United side, but the hard-fought victory over Southampton was a good indicator that this is a side with the right mentality and character needed to challenge for a championship.

That said, United are still in need of some improvement I’d say. The addition of a proven central defender or two wouldn’t go amiss as would getting the best out of Wayne Rooney, but I wouldn’t bet against van Gaal bringing silverware to Old Trafford sooner rather than later.

6. What have you made of Anthony Martial and his impact at United?

I, like pretty much everyone else, raised an eyebrow when United dropped such a significant wedge of cash on an unknown forward, however Martial has seemingly hit the ground running and looks as though he could be a real, genuine talent. However, the key word there is “could”.

Comparisons to Thierry Henry as well as the adulation that four goals so early in a career could very easily raise expectations and van Gaal will have to perhaps work a little to keep the teenager grounded. That said, by all accounts, Martial is a very humble and modest character and I look forward to watching his development this season, but let’s try not to get too carried away just yet, shall we?

7. Who is the best Sunderland player you have ever watched?

Kevin Phillips, without a shadow of a doubt.

I have never, in my lifetime, with perhaps the exception of Darren Bent during that halcyon season in his career, witnessed a player in the red and white stripes that when they were in possession in the opposition penalty area you could confidently put your mortgage on the ball ending up in the back of the net.

The thing with Phillips was he scored all kinds of goals, he was so much more than just a fox-in-the-box. You’d just as likely to see Phillips’ slam one home from twenty-five yards as you were a deft curling effort from the edge of the box or even a header.

8. Why is North East football on the decline? And who makes a worse pundit – Shearer or Quinn!

I wouldn’t like to speak on behalf of our friends up the road, but I believe Sunderland have never really recovered from the failure of Martin O’Neill’s short spell with the club.

Everything seemed perfect about that appointment, as if a cosmic deity had themselves aligned the planets, what could possibly go wrong? Well, pretty much everything as it turned out.

Since then the club’s recruitment, both on the field and in the dugout, has been nothing short of disastrous, which each failure requiring yet another hasty replacement, followed by another and another… This is a club that seems to perpetually be in turmoil. Even now, there are concerns over the long-term future of the club given that Advocaat is set for retirement in May (if not sooner…)

The club is also determined to make a director of football setup work, with very, very mixed results to date.
Until Sunderland consider the long-term future and actually manage to find themselves a manager they can entrust at the helm for longer than six to nine months it is difficult to see Sunderland achieve stability and a platform from which they can progress.

As for the pundits? Quinn is like royalty here is Sunderland and we certainly owe the big man a great deal for his efforts in pulling together a consortium to buy the club, however, let’s be honest – he’s no Gary Neville is he?

9. Where will Sunderland finish? How mad was Di Canio? What is your top four finish this season?

I think, as mentioned earlier, the next six fixtures will shape Sunderland’s season. If we can shore up a leaky defence and the forward line begin to click, we should be fine – I’ll go with 16th.

Paolo was a delightful lunatic, it was just a shame that this particular footballing experiment was undertaken by my own beloved Sunderland as I was too attached to the situation to really enjoy it.

There didn’t seem to be a day go by where another crazy story didn’t come from a dubious source with regards to the banning of tomato sauce in the club canteen, or the banning of the youth team from the gym etc.

Ultimately however, it was Di Canio’s brash managerial style which would lead to his demise. Of course, initially it was great as a fan to hear his honesty with regards to the state of the squad and the double training sessions that poor little overpaid primadonna’s were put through but, at the end of the day, this was never a conducive style to breed team spirit and a team that will put themselves on the line for the gaffer.

Top Four? City certainly look strong, Arsenal should have bought a forward, Chelsea can’t struggle for long, surely, and United will be there or there about:

1. Manchester City
2. Manchester United
3. Chelsea
4. Arsenal

10. Imagine you were Manchester United manager for over 25 years – what would be your all time United XI?

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