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Man Utd vs Sunderland

Sunderland according to the statistics would prove a harder challenge for United at Old Trafford than at the Stadium of Light. Of course the fact that whatever challenge they put up is going to be largely inferior to that of Arsenal's who Man Utd comfortably saw off in the end gives some idea of what sort of result this could be. Credit to Goal for the rest of the pre match report...

BACKGROUND

Because of the vagaries of the fixture list United play Sunderland on Friday evening. Seventeen hours later Chelsea have to travel to Bolton, and a win for the Reds would mean Chelsea kicking off just four points ahead of United. In the circumstances it is difficult to see Sunderland being anything more than cannon fodder for the rampaging Reds whose display against Arsenal last Sunday was one of the season’s best.

By contrast Sunderland are clinging to their Premiership place by the merest sliver of their collective fingernails and it’s difficult to see their role in the match as more than damage limitation and many United fans will be regarding the match as the chance to beef up their goal difference. At present Chelsea are eight goals better off than United and this could be a match where United put the final nail in Sunderland’s Premiership coffin.

Sunderland have had a dreadful season. Marooned at the foot of the table for most of the season and losing their manager after just three years in charge makes it a wretched season for Black Cats fans. There are few positives to take out of such a dreadful season although the team under both McCarthy and his replacement, Kevin Ball, have rarely been trounced or embarrassed by the opposition. But it is extremely ironic that the Sunderland goal difference is -36 whilst their opposition on Friday, Manchester United, have a goal difference with the same number, but of course this one is positive.  

The situation on Friday is even more poignant for Sunderland fans. Relegation is a certainty and it is only the inadequacies of their fellow strugglers, and last weekend’s freak weather, that means they still have a mathematical chance of avoiding the drop. It isn’t anything realistic and most objective Sunderland fans know that they have been doomed for several weeks. They will be relegated if they don’t beat United at Old Trafford but, dreadful as that prospect is, it is actually preferable to the likely alternative.

Sunderland entertain their closest and fiercest rivals Newcastle on Monday and the prospect of being beaten and relegated by the Geordies is too painful to contemplate. United are top of the current form league and their eighteen points from six games compares miserably with Sunderland’s single point. The team’s nine consecutive victories have allowed them to mount this late challenge to Chelsea.

Even if the Reds run out of games and it proves too late to completely overhaul Chelsea the season has still developed into something of a triumph. More importantly the recent run, and the style of performances, gives grounds for confidence in next season, and it was hard to imagine making that statement in the dark days of autumn and winter.

This match takes place just a week after the triumph against Arsenal where United’s performance was sufficient to convince most people that United were really on the way back.

During this occasionally sorry season there have been a few times when Sunderland would have looked forward with anticipation to a visit to Old Trafford but this is most certainly not the time to attempt a massive upset. With all the respect that a great club is due this ought to be a goal difference match for a much-changed United side.



CURRENT FORM:

Man.Utd (Premiership only,most recent first) : WWWWWW

Nine consecutive victories is impressive at any level but in the frenzy of the Premiership it is quite fantastic. Most importantly for the fans is the fact that not only are the team getting the results they are being achieved with a real swagger and style. In that run of nine games the team have scored nine and only conceded six goals and some of the football played has been really sweet to watch. All the uncertainties of the earlier part of the season about tactics, team selection and even the actual value of certain of the players have disappeared and fans are convinced that a team built around Rooney has a real chance next season.

Sunderland (Premiership only, most recent first): LLLLLD

The blizzard in the Fulham match possibly saved Sunderland from yet another defeat and certain relegation.This long, hard season has mercifully only got a handful of games left and there is only pride left to play for. Unfortunately Old Trafford in front of a 70,000+ crowd facing a rampaging Manchester United team is no place to start damage limitation exercises. This would be the ideal time for Jon Stead to start rattling in the goals but, having gone thirty barren games before breaking his duck against Everton it is unlikely that he will improve his figures against an increasingly mean United defence. The problems inflicted on Sunderland haven’t really materialised in the goals column for while they only scored three in the last six games they only conceded nine, and several higher-placed teams would have been happy with that.

TEAM NEWS:

Man.Utd: Scholes, Smith and Solskjaer are out of contention until next season and the unlucky Quinton Fortune will be leaving the club in May. Most exciting news on the injury front is the likely return of Gabrielle Heinze for the Sunderland match meaning that he has every chance of achieving his World Cup ambitions. It seems certain that Fergie will make changes given the important and difficult away match with Spurs on Monday lunchtime. Players like Ferdinand, Van der Saar and Rooney may well be given the night off. Although it will be a much-changed side from the Arsenal match the team should still be much too strong for Sunderland.

Sunderland: Several players who would have missed the abandoned Fulham game may benefit from the extra week and be in contention for Old Trafford. Julio Arca, Steve Caldwell and Stephen Elliott have been struggling with hamstring injuries, and the unfortunate Kevin Kyle was ready to return after a long injury lay-off before he was scalded in an accident at home. The farcical Fulham encounter caused a bad injury to Rory Delap, who suffered stitches in a head wound and a suspected broken nose after a clash of heads with George McCartney.

WATCH OUT FOR:

Man.Utd: Ji-Sung Park has been one of the successes for the club this season and if there was a competition for Fan’s Player of the Year that didn’t include Rooney then the flying Park might well be a surprise winner. Above all fans appreciate enthusiasm and commitment and whole-hearted endeavour and these are among Park’s main attributes. But he also has massive skill which he is only now beginning to show consistently. The match against Arsenal was his best yet for the Reds and some of his dashing runs down the left wing were a revelation. His goal which confirmed the victory was totally deserved as was his standing ovation from 70,000 fans when he was substituted after 84 minutes. All season he has been an important squad player but now he is emerging as a really valuable member of the team.

Sunderland: Jon Stead. Among the myriad disappointments of this season for the Black Cats has been the goal drought suffered by Stead. When he was with Blackburn and featuring as a regular England Under-21 striker there were many predicting a bright future for the likeable Stead. Since then his career has stalled and this season has been a real disappointment. Many are speculating on a transfer to Everton in the close season but it would be pleasing if his last few games of the season could allow him to display his undoubted goalscoring talent.

PROBABLE STARTING XIs:

Man.Utd: Howard, Neville, Brown, Vidic, Silvestre, Park, O’Shea, Giggs, Fletcher, Van Nistelrooy, Saha.

Sunderland: Davis, Hoyte, Breen, Danny Collins, McCartney,Lawrence, Whitehead, Leadbitter, Miller, Brown, Stead.

PREDICTION:

Should be the biggest home banker of the season

United 4 0 Sunderland

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