Manchester United host Sunderland at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon, looking for a vital three points that will keep them at least six points clear of their Manchester rivals.
The Red Devils are in this commanding position after last Sunday’s incredible derby, when United secured all three points thanks to an injury time winner from talisman Robin van Persie.
Sir Alex Ferguson sent out a very attacking line up with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia on the wings and Wayne Rooney behind van Persie. The Reds counter attacked to perfection, with a Rooney brace sending United in 2-0 up at the break.
It should have been three when Young’s tap in was wrongly ruled out for offside and predictably City went down the other end to score before equalising as the game ticked towards its conclusion.
The board went up showing four minutes and the home fans understandably thought they could complete a remarkable comeback. However Rafael was tripped by Tevez 25 yards out, and van Persie’s effort, after glancing off Samir Nasri, went in at the far post to send the away fans into ecstasy.
United will want to build upon this victory to cement their six point lead, and the Reds have an extra incentive on Saturday to defeat Martin O’Neill’s men.
Every United player will remember the Sunderland fans celebrating at the final whistle last season when it emerged that City had scored a last minute winner, and now the Reds have a chance to make sure Sunderland’s fans are silent come full time on Saturday.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men go into the game in great form having won nine out of their last ten games in the league, scoring 26 goals in the process.
Sunderland on the other hand have won just twice over the same period, although they defeated Reading 3-0 in midweek, with Stephane Sessegnon in particular standing out, and they have three or four players that could hurt the Reds.
However United can always rely on Sunderland to score at the wrong end too. Last season Wes Brown scored an own goal to give United a 1-0 win, and in the 2009/2010 season Anton Ferdinand scored a last minute own goal to earn the Reds a 2-2 draw. As long as goals are flying into the Sunderland net no one will care who puts the ball there.
Team Selection Thoughts
David de Gea was recalled to the starting eleven against City last weekend and he played exceptionally well, making a string of fantastic saves. He was very unlucky to concede twice and could do nothing to prevent either of the goals. The young Spaniard should retain his place against Sunderland, and will now want to make the number one spot his own. If he keeps performing like he did on Sunday then he will have no problems making his name, and not Anders Lindegaards’, the one on Sir Alex Ferguson’s team sheet.
Defensively United performed well against City with Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans limiting the likes of Aguero and Balotelli to one or two half chances, but everyone will be delighted with the news that Nemanja Vidic is back and ready for first team action. The Serbian is not only a fantastic defender but a great leader, and undoubtedly the Reds have missed his commanding presence, especially from set pieces. He may not go straight into the starting line up tomorrow, but the news that he is fit again will give everyone a boost. Jonny Evans will miss the game against the Black Cats, meaning Chris Smalling may deputise there. Rafael and Evra should continue at right and left back, with the former continuing to have his best season yet in United red. The Brazilian is a driving force, not only thwarting attacks at one end but joining in with them at the other, and he has four assists already, making him the joint most creative defender in the league.
Shinji Kagawa has returned to full training, although the game on Saturday will come too soon for him. Nani and Anderson remain sidelined, but apart from that Sir Alex has a clean bill of health in midfield. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley both had superb games at the Etihad, keeping the ball and playing simple yet effective passes, whilst at the same time subduing the likes of Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri. Their performances should be rewarded with another start, although Darren Fletcher, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Paul Jones, could come in if Sir Alex opts to rotate slightly. Young and Valencia were key on Sunday in helping the Reds counter attack swiftly. Young in particular had a very good game, setting up the first and he would have got on the score sheet himself had his goal not been incorrectly ruled out. With Nani injured he can cement his place on the left wing, and if he can rediscover his early form from last season, then Young can be an influential figure for United as they go in search of a 20th league title.
Up front Sir Alex’s selection requires no thought. If van Persie and Rooney are fit they start, and in recent weeks this combination has been devastating. Between them the pair have scored seven in three games, and will be looking to add to that total against the Black Cats tomorrow. Hernandez and Welbeck will be disappointed by their lack of first team action, although when two world class strikers are scoring goals it is always going to be extremely difficult to force them out of the team.
Three Key Battles
Robin van Persie vs. John O’Shea
The Dutchman has scored 11 league goals already this season, registering in each of his last three games and he should get plenty of chances to add to that tally on Saturday. O’Shea will be charged with the task of subduing him and although he is a proficient defender, van Persie’s movement will cause the Irishman all sorts of problems. If United can get the ball moved wide quickly to Young and Valencia then the Reds will create plenty of goal scoring opportunities.
Antonio Valencia vs. Danny Rose
Sir Alex surprised a few people with the inclusion of Valencia last weekend after claiming that the winger would remain sidelined for a couple of weeks. His pace and power allowed United to break quickly, and defensively he marshalled Clichy going forward to ensure United weren’t overrun. If fit, Rose will have a testing afternoon against the Ecuadorian, although he won’t lack for pace. However Valencia is very clever at slowing the defender down before accelerating into space, and if Rose tries to join in when Sunderland go forward, the gaps will be exploited by Valencia who will look to feed van Persie and Rooney with early, incisive passes.
Steven Fletcher vs. Rio Ferdinand
As much as United will look to dominate possession and create chances they will have to be wary of Sunderland’s attacking threat, with Fletcher posing the biggest problem. The ex Wolves striker has scored seven times this season, and the fact that Sunderland are struggling makes that an even more impressive stat. He is great in the air as well as being clinical from all angles, with his goal in midweek showing his predatory instinct. Ferdinand has been in good form as of late and he will have to be at the top of his game to ensure Fletcher isn’t allowed any time or space in the box.
United may have just gone six points clear at the top of the table, but Sir Alex will know the significance of consolidating that victory with a win on Saturday. City travel to Newcastle, a difficult game in its own right, and the Reds could be even further clear if they do their job and results in other games go the right way. Sunderland will head to Old Trafford buoyed by their success over Reading in midweek but will have to put in their best performance of the season yet if they are to achieve a positive result. United have key players in form, and if they play anything like they did against City they should overpower their opponents from the North East and make it five wins in a row.
Manchester United vs. Sunderland match day thread HERE.
Share your thoughts with the Stretford End Arising forum.