On Sunday, Jose Mourinho takes his Manchester United team to face their ex-manager David Moyes’ Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Both the teams are perhaps fighting to save their pre-season goals. Sunderland would have hoped to stay up in the league despite their quality issues, while Manchester United would have aimed at least for a top-four finish at the start of the season. It is increasingly likely that both the teams will miss out on these pre-season aims and an unfavourable result on Sunday will increase the likelihood of this even more.
David Moyes, who himself is under fire for his insulting comment to a woman journalist earlier in the season, tried valiantly to appear positive in his pre-match press conference. He talked about his players having the experience of successful relegation battles in the past season to lauding their effort levels despite the string of defeats. With the Black Cats being a full 10 points behind Hull in 17th, an escape this time seems highly improbable. If they are to win any points against United, Sunderland will need to find a way to score a goal or two and this has proven to be the most difficult thing for them to accomplish lately.
Manchester United themselves are starved of goals, having scored only 44 goals, while all their top-six peers have more than 50 goals. This lack of goals has also brought the second highest number of draws (12) in a Premier League season for United. Jose Mourinho was quite blunt about his preferences as he said that he would have preferred United to have won five matches and lost five matches instead of the ten draws they have completed in the last 20 matches. He should be fairly confident of extending United’s unbeaten run to 21 on Sunday, but his concern would be if his team gathers all three points or not. If they fail to win, it would be safe to say that the only way United can get Champions League football next season is by winning the Europa League.
- Sunderland has won just three games against Manchester United in 31 Premier League meetings (D6, L22).
- Sunderland has failed to score in six consecutive top-flight matches for the first time since a run of eight games in October 1981.
- The Red Devils are unbeaten in 20 Premier League Games (W10, D10). Of the 16 occasions which a team has gone on a 20+ unbeaten run in the competition, this is the run with the lowest points per game average (2.0) and win ratio (50%).
- Jose Mourinho has amassed 54 points in his first 29 Premier League games as Manchester United manager, two fewer than Louis van Gaal.
To say that someone, who has not scored for six league matches and has not scored against Manchester United also for six matches since March 2012, is likely to be a key man for the home team seems a bit hopeful. But the truth is that Jermain Defoe seems to be the only player at David Moyes’ disposal who has at least a small chance of scoring. Sunderland needs to win the match if they wish to avoid relegation and only Defoe can score the goals they require to end United’s unbeaten run.
If Defoe has scored 56% of his side’s league goals this season, Zlatan has scored 36% of United’s 44 league goals. Unlike the Black Cats, United do have other goals scorers but more often than not they need Zlatan to score for them to take any points from a match. Also, what is likely to be an extremely physical battle for the ball in the Sunderland box will mean that Zlatan is more suited to score due to his own stature. United, however, will be hoping that his next goal is not a point-saving penalty in injury time and that instead, the Swede can help them collect all three points at the Stadium of Light.
The Black Cats will again miss John O’Shea as he will be unavailable to face his old team due to personal reasons. Adnan Januzaj will also not be eligible to face his parent club due to the terms of his loan agreement. Lee Cattermole was back after nearly seven months in the midweek against Leicester and should be able to start on Sunday as well. Victor Anichebe is also back for the Black Cats. However, Moyes confirmed that Anichebe will not be able to complete 90 minutes.
Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young are likely to sit out this encounter as Rooney continues to nurse ankle pain, while Young also limped off against Everton midweek. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Juan Mata continue to remain sidelined. However, Paul Pogba should be available to start after a three-week injury lay-off. Mkhitaryan and Martial are also likely to start on Sunday as Mourinho will look to improve his starting lineup from the one he fielded against the Toffees. This should also mean a return to the starting lineup for Antonio Valencia.
David Moyes can put as much positive spin on Sunderland’s current woes as he wants but the fact is that in 13 matches, Sunderland has won only one match and collected only six points. To hope that this team can turn around and defeat even a misfiring Manchester United is very optimistic and a very long shot. Jose Mourinho will certainly be hoping that his team do not sweat to achieve all three points in this encounter and that they actually win it easily. Whether it would be as easy or not, but United should be able to end their sequence of draws and extend their unbeaten run to 21.
Prediction: Sunderland 0 – 2 Manchester United