League Position: 11th
League Form: DDDWL
You can instantly tell when a previously small-time club is genuinely on the up when they pick up a result at a place like Anfield and no-one even batters an eye-lid. That is precisely what Sunderland down last weekend. Granted their opponents are out of sorts at present and lacking a huge amount of self belief and confidence, but there’s all part and parcel with the game these days and my did the Black Cats asset themselves on Merseyside.
A 2-2 draw at Anfield against England’s most successful team isn’t something to be sniffed at, and Sunderland most definitely won’t. Steven Bruce didn’t just see his side collect a valuable point at a notoriously tough venue but he watched his team come within a whisker of collecting all three points, what would have been the club’s first ever win away to Liverpool in the Premier League, with the Black Cats enjoying sustained periods of possession and pressure in a game they had no right to obtain anything from, on paper anyway. The player at the heart of their Merseyside success, none other than Darren Bent who took his tally for the season to five goals following his brace at the weekend.
You just cannot write Sunderland off in any game no more, and their opponents on Saturday will be well aware of this, after Sunderland drew 2-2 at Old Trafford last season before narrowly losing the home encounter 1-0. Furthermore, there shouldn’t be any shortage of confidence within the Sunderland dressing room. The point away to Liverpool ensured the team extended their unbeaten run to four games, rising to eleventh in the table in the process. The only negative has been their lack of wins so far, just the one unfortunately, although that was further proof of the inroads this club has made; a 1-0 win at home to mega-spending Man City.
As Sunderland go in search of another pleasing result which would continue their impressive run of form – regardless of their lack of wins – Steve Bruce is hoping to have several of his defenders back for this United test at the Stadium of Light. Kieran Richardson was missing at Anfield with a hamstring but is hoping to make his return against his former club, John Mensah was expected to return to first-team action at Anfield, as was Anton Ferdinand, but neither recovered in time meaning they should be closing in on a starting berth for Saturday’s meeting with giants Manchester United.
League Position: 2nd
League Form: DWDWD
The Red Devils will go in search of their first away win of the season on Saturday, in the league anyhow, but after beating Spanish La Liga leaders Valencia in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday – IN SPAIN – there shouldn’t be any fear nor apprehension coming from the United camp as they seek out three vital points away at the Stadium of Light this weekend, with Sunderland the opponents.
Sir Alex should be well aware of the threat posed by Sunderland nowadays, with the Black Cats holding United to a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last season – a stoppage time own goal by Anton Ferdinand spoiling what would have been a terrible day at the office nearly a day to the year ago. And with the Red Devils seriously struggling for form away from home in the league so far, drawing their opening three away encounters – Two of which they squandered invaluable leads in, victory away from home in Europe couldn’t have come at a more crucial time, with the winds firmly under their sails as an international break looms.
Credit where credit’s due, Manchester United did their job magnificently in midweek, defending in a resolute manner throughout their testing encounter with an always tricky opponent in Valencia. With injuries to key players in the lead up to that game, with Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney all missing the trip to Spain and all subsequently ruled out of Satruday’s clash with Sunderland as well, Fergie couldn’t of asked for more form his players as they stuck to the task commendably and were rewarded near the death when super-sub Javier Hernandez popped up with the game deciding goal – United back on track in Europe.
With Europe aside, it would be foolish to now brush United’s away flaws this season under the carpet. Not only are they still without a win on the road in the league this season but they’ve been so complacent that to think a win over a disappointing Valencia will be the overnight remedy United fans desperately need is ridiculous. Moreover, in Sunderland United have an opponent who will genuinely pose a threat in their own backyard and will stick away their chances, with Darren Bent in particular in prolific form. Air Alex will do well to keep Bent quiet all afternoon.
Match Prediction: Sunderland to WIN – 5.50 PaddyPower
Perhaps we are getting a tad carried away with Sir Alex’s injury headaches, with Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney all absent this week, but there’s a distinct lack of creativity and guile now in midfield and up front, and while Berbatov maybe enjoying his best ever spell in a United shirt, the Bulgarian is a player which needs regular service and I have my doubts he’ll get a great deal of that this weekend.
Darren Bent insists the Black Cats are raring to go ahead of Saturday’s showdown with the Red Devils, eager to test themselves against one of the country’s elite, and with the form Darren Bent has been in for the past twelve months and beyond who would back against him and his team-mates springing a surprise on Wearside? We certainly aren’t and think their odds to win are more than a touch generous.
Over/Under: Under 2.5 Goals – 1.91 StanJames
First Goalscorer: Darren Bent – 8.00 WilliamHill
Correct Score: 1-0 Sunderland – 14.00 PaddyPower
Sunderland – 5.50 PaddyPower
Draw – 3.60 Boylesports
Manchester United – 1.80 bWin