Adnan Januzaj scored two goals past Sunderland in the away fixture last season.
Manchester United take on Sunderland at the Stadium of Light this Sunday, having begun their Premier League campaign in disappointing fashion last weekend – United lost 2-1 at home to Swansea in Louis van Gaal’s Premier League debut. Sunderland opened their league season with a 1-1 draw against West Brom, and will be encouraged by their recent performances and results against United.
Although it’s painful to revisit last season – part of me wants to believe that it never happened – the record shows that Sunderland beat United twice last season: at Old Trafford in the league, at their home ground in the League Cup, they emerged victorious from the sides’ League Cup semifinal tie. The Black Cats also led for a long period of time at home to United in the league, before David de Gea’s save of the season kept us in the game and Adnan Januzaj’s heroic intervention turned the match around.
Under new management United should give a far better account of themselves, but an astonishingly large injury list plus the adaptation to new tactical instructions mean that – as van Gaal said almost a month ago – the side will struggle before settling into the Dutchman’s preferred rhythms and system.
View From the Opposition
1) What are your aspirations for the season? What position do you think you’ll finish?
I think Sunderland are set for a season of transition and, given the number of managers we have seen in recent years, hopefully stability. For far too long, basically since returning to the Premier League in 2007, Sunderland have failed to make the step up from perennial relegation candidates to an established Premier League club by more . This simply has to change.
Mid-table mediocrity will suit me nicely, 11th or 12th place and another cup run would be nice. Oh, and continuing our recent success in the local derby against that lot up the road wouldn’t go amiss either.
2) What do you think of Gus Poyet? Is he the right man for the job?
I think Poyet deserves an awful lot of credit for the work which he managed to do in a short amount of time last season.
The club he inherited was a wreck. Di Canio had completely destroyed all confidence, camaraderie and any semblance of cohesion on the pitch.
Not only did Poyet act quickly to fight the fires he was greeted with but he also somehow managed to instil his footballing philosophy onto, what was essentially, a pretty poor squad. Whilst it wasn’t quite an overnight transformation, Sunderland were unrecognisable from the disaster which started last term and looked comfortable with the ball at their feet looking to play the possession and passing based game which Poyet favours.
For what he managed to achieve in incredibly difficult circumstance, I certainly have a lot of faith and hope in Poyet.
However, whilst the Uruguayan has got pretty much everything spot on tactically, I don’t think his comments in the press have done our transfer dealings any favours this summer. Quotes which portrayed the manager’s urgent desperation for new signings, which only served to pile unnecessary pressure onto Lee Congerton, our Sporting Director, and make his job a lot more difficult.
3) How on earth did Sunderland get out of the relegation scrap last season?
If I knew that I would be sat in a dugout rather than behind this keyboard I suspect! It really was quite something wasn’t it? I base a lot of our success on carrying on the form and momentum from our Capital One Cup run into the league by not making too many wholesale changes to the team during that time.
There was also the incredible emergence from the shadows of Connor Wickham during the run-in which was spectacularly well timed. Wickham had never lived up to his billing since his move to Sunderland, failing to impress each new manager and spending the majority of his time either on the fringes of the squad or out on loan. No-one could have predicted such an impact from the forward but by god was it a welcome surprise.
4) Are you happy with the signing of Jack Rodwell? Have you seen much of Will Buckley?
Jack Rodwell has been the one transfer so far which has caught both the headlines and the imagination of the fans here on Wearside. Despite well documented injury troubles, Rodwell is undoubtedly a very talented footballer who desperately needs to get his career back on track and to do this he needs playing time. For this very reason this is why his move to Sunderland was a deal that made a great deal of sense and hopefully Rodwell will take full advantage of this opportunity as he has the potential to be a really influential player for the side.
Will Buckley, whilst a name I was familiar with, was not a player that I could attest to have seen a great deal of. However, what Buckley does bring with him is an element of Sunderland’s game which has been sorely missing – pace.
By all accounts Buckley was out of sorts last season; however this was attributed to a failure to adapt to then Brighton boss, Oscar Garcia’s system more than anything else.
Buckley was however, a much more influential and key figure under Gus Poyet during the Uruguayan’s time at the club, an affection which has made the winger a long-term target of Poyet’s, so I’m quite looking forward to seeing how he can adapt to the Premier League. In Wickham and Fletcher we certainly have a couple of target men for the likes of Buckley to hit.
5) What youngsters should we look out for this season?
That’s a tough one, to be honest, as this current Sunderland squad is not exactly bursting at the seams with young players who are at a stage where they could be thrown in at the deep end with any real confidence.
Charis Mavrias was probably the closest to making the first team before the arrival of Will Buckley seemingly put an end to any hopes the young Greek had of making the starting eleven given our lack of personnel to fill that left wing spot and the twenty-year old will probably have to remain patient for his chance.
Sunderland certainly have a number of players who are making a name for themselves in the under 21’s; Duncan Watmore, a name you will be familiar with, along with Martin Smith and Liam Agnew are probably the trio of whom the most is expected of our current crop of youngsters.
6) What have you made of Louis van Gaal’s very early reign? Will he be a success?
It’s probably a little too early to make any real judgement despite what I perceived to be a remarkably lacklustre opening day against Swansea.
There were a few strange decisions which I couldn’t quite get my head around however, such as the insistence on sticking with his favoured three at the back despite a lack of Premier League-ready personnel to adequately make such a formation work.
The inclusion of Blackett and Lingard, whilst an obvious statement to Ed Woodward with regards to his assessment of the club’s transfer dealings to date this summer, was rather naïve and allowed for a starting eleven which made Monk’s team talk all the easier.
Don’t get me started on the decision to pump long balls to Fellaini by the end either, a desperate throw of the dice for which Moyes would have been crucified.
Obviously it is incredibly early days and you would wager Manchester United to make strides in the transfer market before the deadline, deals which will make or break your season you could argue, and I would expect van Gaal to mould an altogether more imposing Manchester United than last year.
7) What do you make of Manchester United’s lack of transfer activity? Unwillingness to spend? Lack of strategy? Or both?
I don’t think any blame can be attributed to an unwillingness to spend given the sums that have already been splashed out on the likes of Shaw and Herrera.
Ultimately I believe you are more on the money with your second statement and what is perceived to be a lack of strategy with regards to transfers. Van Gaal’s lack of time behind the scenes at Old Trafford this summer probably haven’t helped matters either, a position where he would have had a lend of Woodward’s ear more readily you would suspect.
Whilst every fan wants to see their side do their transfer business as early in the window as possible, this is not always possible. I’d still expect Manchester United to secure a few notable transfers by the end of August.
8) Where do you think United will finish this season and who is your tip for the title?
Whilst I expect van Gaal to improve Manchester United this term, I am a little dubious as to whether this will result in the side breaking into the top four. At the risk of upsetting your readers, I don’t see Manchester United finishing ahead of Chelsea, who I believe will win the title this term, Manchester City, Arsenal or Liverpool.
Liverpool are the obvious candidates as to who could drop out of this top four given their added European commitments this year but despite losing Suarez they seem to have spent well this summer for me and are probably a better bet for the top four, as things currently stand, than Manchester United.
I’d suggest a 4th or 5th place finish for van Gaal’s side this year, a season of transition and a platform to challenge next year.
9) What is your greatest Sunderland vs. Manchester United memory at your place?
My favourite Sunderland vs. Manchester United memory would have to be the victory for the home side back in 1997 and the final season at old Roker Park.
That term was my first taste of Premier League football and I can still remember to this day the excitement my young self felt approaching the terraces of the Roker End and the anticipation of seeing live, for the first time, the likes of Schmeichel, Cantona, Beckham and Giggs.
With Sunderland lingering around the relegation zone (surprise, surprise, at the time, nothing but a heavy away win was predicted however somehow Sunderland were able to upset the odds and come away with a 2-1 win much to the delight of the 22,000 on the dilapidated terraces of old Roker.
A truly memorable afternoon I’ll never forget.
10) How do you think you’ll line up and what in what formation…
I don’t think we’ll alter much from the side that Poyet put out at The Hawthornes to be honest – a 4-5-1 with Wickham deployed out wide on left, but becoming more of a 4-3-3 with Johnson joining Fletcher and Wickham as a front three when we are in attack;
Mannone; Vergini, O’Shea, Roberge, van Aanholt; Johnson, Cattermole, Rodwell, Larsson; Fletcher, Wickham.
Finally: what do you think the score will be and who will be Sunderland’s star performer on the day?
I’m currently undecided, to be perfectly honest and without wanting to sound as if I am sitting on the fence. From watching your last outing against Swansea I didn’t see a great deal to particularly fear apart from that spell after half time which saw Rooney’s goal. However, having watched enough football I know fine well to predict a backlash from Manchester United following such a debacle.
My heart says a narrow win, whilst my head predicts a draw.
Team News and Conclusion
It wouldn’t be a Man United league campaign without an absurdly massive first-team injury crisis. This time we’ve been treated to one in August instead of the traditional Christmas injury festival. United are missing their first-choice centre-back (Evans), first-choice left-wingback (Shaw), first-choice central midfield pairing (Carrick and Ander Herrera) and – though LvG doesn’t seem to rate him – our first-choice right-back for the last three seasons (Rafael). Danny Welbeck has recovered from a knee injury but is still a doubt… and, devastatingly for many of us, Danny has seemingly been shown the exit door by the manager.
*Moment of silence for Danny Welbeck*
In more positive news, Robin van Persie should be back in the side after extended post-World Cup recuperation. At least on paper (or on glass and pixels or whatever), the first-choice front three of Mata, Rooney and van Persie looks incredibly exciting. Come on United. Also, #PleasePleasePleaseDoNotSellDanny.