These two sides both underwhelmed on the opening day, as Sunderland only got a point at West Brom who are tipped to struggle, while Manchester United lost their first match under Louis Van Gaal. Like last season, they struggled to control the match at Old Trafford and incisive counter attacking play from Swansea allowed the Welsh club to win again at the Theatre of Dreams; albeit this time in the league. Sunderland managed to take a point away from the Hawthorns which isn’t too bad, but West Brom are amongst the favourites this season to be relegated and they are the sort of away games that Gus Poyet must be targeting to win.
Sunderland had a disappointing campaign last season, but there will be renewed optimism on Wearside after their incredible recovery towards the end of the season. The new signings of Jordi Gomez, Jack Rodwell, Billy Jones and Costel Pantillimon will add experience to the squad, as all have played in the Premier League before. Last season, they brought in too many unknowns and the likes of Emanuele Giaccherini, Jozy Altidore and Cabral failed to make the desired impact. They will be looking towards a home match against Manchester United as an opportunity to take three points, especially if Louis Van Gaal’s men play like they did against Swansea.
Meanwhile the away side have been active in the transfer market this week, adding Marcos Rojo who played a key part in Argentina’s impressive World Cup. The defender can play left back or centre back, with many expecting Van Gaal to use the Argentinian on the left of the back three, replacing Tyler Blackett in the starting eleven. The new manager shocked people last weekend after starting Blackett and Jesse Lingard for their Premier League debuts, but it showed that nobody is safe under the Dutchman and that younger players will be given a chance. This weekend’s line up should be stronger and Van Gaal will not accept two successive losses to start his reign at Old Trafford.
In the corresponding fixture last season, Manchester United won 2-1 due to a double from Adnan Januzaj, who may find his way back into the starting eleven this weekend, while Craig Gardner opened the scoring for Sunderland. At Old Trafford, Sunderland picked up a vital three points on their way to survival, with Seb Larsson grabbing the goal. The two matches between the sides were close and expect a similar story this Sunday.
- Last weekend, Sunderland scored on the opening day for the first time since 2011, while it was also Lee Cattermole’s second goal goal for the club in 120 appearances.
- Manchester United loss against Swansea was their first opening day defeat at Old Trafford since 1972, when Ipswich won 2-1.
Lee Cattermole has been a key player for Sunderland for a number of years and his role will become even more important this season, especially after the departure of Jack Colback. Although Jack Rodwell has a lot of talent, his lack of football over the past few years will have hampered his development and he will need time to readjust to a first team place. He make make errors in the first few weeks, but playing alongside an experienced player like Cattermole will make it easier for Rodwell. Cattermole’s main talents lie within his tackling and break up play, but he can also score the occasional goal as he showed at West Brom. His pass success on the opening day was 93.3% showing his calmness on the ball and his ability to ensure his side retain possession. If he plays as well as he did against West Brom, Manchester United may have to wait another week for their first victory under Van Gaal.
It’s a big season for Wayne Rooney after being given the captaincy at Old Trafford, he will be expected to contribute lots of goals and assists, especially the latter if Robin van Persie gets himself fit and firing. He opened the season with a smart overhead finish against Swansea, but he is a match-winner, and consolation goals like that won’t mean a lot to the team or the player. He is likely to be used as part of a front two this season, with Van Persie when both are fit, this will allow Rooney to get into attacking positions and score the amount of goals he did while in his prime. In recent seasons, he has been used deeper, although he can be effective, he is at his best playing as a striker as he is a natural goalscorer, nobody can argue with that. Sunderland don’t have the strongest back four and were known to be rash last season, the intelligence of Rooney in the final third could prove a big issue.
Jesse Lingard and Marouane Fellaini are both expected to face lengthy spells on the sidelines after featuring in Manchester United’s first match. Luke Shaw, Michael Carrick, Danny Welbeck and Anderson will all be missing again this week, while Marcos Rojo could be in line for his debut. Rafael, Robin van Persie, Johnny Evans and Antonio Valencia could all feature this weekend after missing out on the opening day.
Billy Jones could make his debut after he missed the opening day with a hamstring injury. Santiago Vergini is a doubt as he is suffering from a knock, while Emanuele Giaccherini will definitely be missing as he suffers from a groin injury. Sunderland may opt to start Liam Bridcutt ahead of Connor Wickham or Steven Fletcher as they may be more conservative than they were against West Brom, when they started two strikers.
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It is almost unthinkable that Manchester United would lose their opening two matches of the season, but it isn’t impossible, especially when you take Sunderland’s record against the top teams into consideration. They still have lots of injuries, however the return of Van Persie will be a boost. I expect the Dutchman to return to top form under Louis Van Gaal, he could very well score this weekend. It won’t be easy, but I think Manchester United will win this one.
Sunderland 1-2 Manchester United