Manchester United will be intent on picking up their third consecutive Premier League win against a Sunderland side that sits bottom of the table with the future of Head Coach Dick Advocaat in renewed doubt.
The Red Devils come in Saturday in second place and just the two points behind their city rivals, and boss Louis van Gaal is making noises that his side can challenge for the title. If they can continue to grind out positive results, that may well be possible, but performances are still unconvincing and the sort of attacking football with which they are associated is still not emerging. This alone is preventing most observers from tipping them for glory.
That is despite netting three goals in each of their last two league outings. The last of those came at Southampton, where expensive teenager Anthony Martial maintained his wonderful start in English football with a brace to turn things around after a slow start which could have seen them more than just the one goal down. With Sunderland having looked very vulnerable at the back all season, Martial should fancy his chances of finding the net again here.
It would be something of a surprise if the Wearside club come away from Old Trafford with any points, as they have just the two points so far and are very much back in the state of doom and gloom which has plagued them for most of the last two years. The early signs are that come the business end of the season, they may need another miraculous run of form in order to stay up, especially if they play as they did in the early exchanges at Bournemouth last time out.
Advocaat launched a scathing attack on his players after the 2-0 loss on the South coast, where their well publicised frailties were exposed once again, and wastefulness in front of goal cost them any chance of making a recovery. Jermain Defoe is the man the Black Cats rely on heavily for goals, but even he seems to be snatching at chances at present, so they look to be facing an uphill struggle coming into this one, especially given the manner in which they succumbed to Manchester City in the League Cup on Tuesday.
The home side have a shortage of defensive options, with Marcos Rojo and Paddy McNair joining Luke Shaw on the treatment table. However, Phil Jones could make his comeback after illness.
Younes Kaboul is back for Sunderland after a one-match ban, but they have doubts over the fitness of Defoe and Jack Rodwell.
Last Meeting: A supposed case of mistaken identity marred Man Utd’s 2-0 victory back in February, as referee Roger East sent off Wes Brown for the foul which led to the deadlock being broken, despite replays showing that John O’Shea had been the offender. Wayne Rooney stepped up to score, and the captain was on hand to net the second after Costel Pantilimon could only parry Adnan Januzaj’s cross.
Played for both – David Bellion: The Frenchman was a striker who has never lived up to his initial billing, but he became a regular at Sunderland after scoring the winner against Aston Villa in September 2002. This was his only goal in 20 league appearances, but he still earned a move to the champions the following summer. He went on to score four times in the Premier League for United in 24 outings.