Wayne Rooney made a bold statement that if there’s one team that he wants to beat this season, it’s Sunderland. Despite beating Sunderland 1-0 in the final game of last season, Manchester City’s comeback against QPR ensured the Premier League trophy went to the blue half of Manchester. In what was a tense and nervy wait for the United players it was the Sunderland fans who delivered the news that City had won the title with ironic cheers that irked Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson alike.
It seems apt that United’s first game after the international break is at the Stadium of Light, in an early afternoon kick-off where they have the chance to go 18 points clear before City host Newcastle later in the day.
The international break will have drained a lot of players’ energy and even with United hiring private jets to ensure that their players returned to Manchester as quickly as possible, there is every chance that there will be some heavy legs.
In fact this weekend could prove vital to United’s ambitions of winning silverware this season, with only a 48-hour turnaround before facing Chelsea in the FA Cup on Monday afternoon.
Using the EPL Index Tactics Board we can see how Manchester United might use their squad over the weekend for the away trips to Sunderland and then Chelsea.
Possible Manchester United line-up vs. Sunderland
It is highly likely that United will operate in a 4-4-2 formation and even likelier that they will opt to rest one or two key players ahead of the game at Stamford Bridge on Monday.
Ryan Giggs and Anderson, two players who didn’t leave United during the international break, could well start together in the heart of midfield against the Black Cats.
Giggs’ poise on the ball twinned with Anderson’s energy and tenacity could be needed alongside the presence of two wingers in a system that United have frequently used this season.
Giggs, in particular, will be important for United in this game should he play. The Welshman has continued to serve United as professionally as ever this season and is enjoying a spell of good form. In the Premier League his open play pass completion has improved from 80% to 82% this season and his tackle success rate has shot up from 64% to 90% – signs that he remains as vital as ever for United.
Ashley Young scored a fantastic goal against the minnows of San Marino last Friday and made a substitute’s appearance against Montenegro, so he should be fresh enough to face Sunderland.
Antonio Valencia has endured a difficult season, but nonetheless remains integral to United’s right-hand side. He had a wonder goal disallowed against Paraguay playing for Ecuador and provided three assists in a friendly against El Salvador. Despite the long-distance travel, Ferguson might be tempted to start the Ecuadorian in the hope that he is hitting some form.
Robin van Persie, for whom the goals have dried up of late, scored three goals for Holland during the international break including a magnificent glancing header against Romania. It’s crucial that the Dutchman scores goals in the run-in for United and operating in and around the 18-yard box, he is as clinical as any forward in the game.
In the reverse fixture this season at Old Trafford, United eased to a 3-1 victory. Saturday’s fixture should prove to be more of a contest, although after last season’s disappointment at the Stadium of Light, Ferguson will deem anything other than three points as a failure.
Possible Manchester United line-up vs. Chelsea
Manchester United are likely to revert to their more traditional line-up in the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Chelsea by recalling some of their star players.
The biggest change should see Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley return in midfield. Chelsea enjoy a lot of their success centrally through players such as Juan Mata, Oscar, Eden Hazard and Ramires so the game may well be won and lost inside the circled area of the pitch above. Wayne Rooney could also drop deeper to offer some support and form a five-man midfield when necessary.
In both games versus Chelsea this season (Premier League and FA Cup), United have used a 4-4-2 formation scoring five goals in the process. It seems logical that they would start the game on Monday in much the same manner.
Indeed, in those two previous games this season, Patrice Evra, Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand and Rafael Da Silva have started at the back.
Rio Ferdinand should be refreshed after deciding not to play for England during the international break and Jonny Evans only played one match after Northern Ireland’s game versus Russia was twice called off due to snow at Windsor Park.
It is very likely that Javier Hernandez will feature at some point. The Mexican scored twice for Mexico against Honduras and despite being substituted after an hour with cramp, he was fit enough to face the United States a few days later.
Hernandez always seems to score against Chelsea and his brilliant header gave United the lead in the first game at Old Trafford. He also scored the winner in the Premier League tie at Stamford Bridge in October last year.
Last season in the Premier League, Hernandez was averaging a goal every 148 mins, which is a more than respectable average. This season, however, he is netting every 86 mins.
Particularly if United need to chase the game or if they find themselves losing in the latter stages, Hernandez is certain to feature.
In what could prove to be a hugely significant weekend for Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson will be keen to utilise as many players as possible in order to ensure the team is fresh for the remainder of the season.
The Sunderland game will be tough and whilst it might not be pretty, United should have enough to come away with the three points.
When they travel to Stamford Bridge on Monday, we can expect United to use width to stifle the options going forward that Ashley Cole and Cesar Azpilicueta offer.
While one or two key players may be rested for the Premier League fixture against Sunderland, the quick turnaround before the Chelsea game means that they won’t be rested for long.
Ferguson is particularly adept at utilising his squad where possible, and with the fixtures coming thick and fast, United’s trophy-winning ambitions will be a little clearer after this Easter weekend.
£20 Wins You:
Sunderland to win: £105
5 Goals in game: £175
van Persie scores 1st to break duck: £80
Danny Graham to open account: £105[/one_half]
£20 Wins You:
Chelsea to win both halves: £155
United to win both halves: £190
Over 2.5 Goals to be scored in game: £100
United to score first: £41
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