Manchester United are are just hitting top gear and should be able to swat Sunderland aside on David Moyes’ return to Old Trafford. Despite still being in the bottom three things have been looking brighter for the Black Cats recently, but they will have to play better than they’ve done all season to return to Wearside with as much as a point.
It can sometimes take a while for popular opinion to catch up with reality in football. But the fact remains that Manchester United have been playing well for two months now, and waltzed through a tricky away game at West Brom on Saturday.
The only blight on their record is that run of draws in November, but even back then the Red Devils were playing well. They carry a lot of momentum into the new year, and could find themselves in a Champions League spot before the end of December.
It’s bizarre that Michael Carrick has never garnered much acclaim in England. Even Mourinho was reluctant to give him much game-time at the start of the season.
But here’s a player who was a regular under Alex Ferguson, and along with Robin van Persie was the key to United’s last title-winning season, in 12-13.
These last few weeks Carrick has cut a Busquets-esque figure in the middle of the park. He has directed play calmly and has helped bring the best out of Pogba and Herrera.
As we enter a busy time of the season Mourinho may need to manage Carrick’s fitness carefully, but he should have more than enough in the tank for the visit of the Black Cats.
Not many players have come in for as much criticism this season as Matteo Darmian. But the right-back is doing better in an unfamiliar left-sided role than he is being given credit for.
Doubts may remain about his capability at defending one-on-one situations, but he brings energy and a good reading of the game to a makeshift defence. Maybe his low reputation is another example of the wider world taking a bit longer to catch up.
It’s not that unusual to see defenders and goalkeepers playing at the highest level into their mid-30s. But up front tends to be a young man’s game, and by 35 most forwards are getting limited minutes or playing at a lower level.
Which only makes the achievements of Zlatan Ibrahimovic even more special. He is currently on ten goals in the last ten matches and has rediscovered his scoring touch afte ra spell in which the team was begging for goals.
If there is one drawback to starting Ibra in the middle it’s the need for pace on the flanks, which will probably keep Mata out of the team. In his place Jesse Lingard remains a useful squad option, bringing a mix of pace and clever interplay to the party.
Mourinho may have stumbled on the ideal solution to Rooney’s inconsistent touch and waning pace. On the left he has more room to manoeuvre and can cut inside for shots or to play people in.
And with Pogba alongside him Rooney’s under less pressure to funnel back and protect his full-back as the France star has the engine to shut down attacks on the left flank and lighten his workload.
Manchester United Predicted Lineup:
De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick, Pogba; Lingard, Ibrahimovic, Rooney
Beating the Odds
After another winless start to the season Sunderland were tipped to stop flirting with the drop and finally go down this season. But slowly a few heroes have emerged to give the Black Cats hope.
The biggest of these has been Jordan Pickford, who has barely made a mistake all season, while pulling off some almost impossible saves to earn crucial points.
With Joe Hart doing some soul-searching in Turin, Pickford may usurp England’s current number 1 before the season is up.
Moyes will regret the timing of this fixture with United as his loanee Adnan Januzaj will be unavailable to play against his parent club. This comes just as the young midfielder was showing signs of life in the home win against Watford.
It’s especially bad news because there’s almost no creativity in the Sunderland lineup. And with the diminutive Jermain Defoe alone up front it won’t be easy to get the ball forward for long enough to put the United defence under pressure.
But a Solid Base
Moyes has found the defensive formula at least, with Ndong and Jason Denayer coming through as an almost impenetrable midfield partnership on their day.
They’ll park deep in front of an uncompromising centre-back pairing of Djilobodji and Lamine Koné, who are both defenders who could make it for top half teams. Moyes will be dying to prove a point at Old Trafford and this quartet could make for a testing afternoon for the home team.
Sunderland’s steady progress in the last few weeks has been all the more commendable given that they’ve lost half a team to long-term injuries already. It’s a shame that players as young as Watmore and McNair have to miss a year or more with cruciate ruptures.
It’s also forcing Moyes to improvise, playing Victor Anichebe in a new wing role, and bringing Denayer into midfield. A couple more injuries and things will be looking bleak.
Sunderland are also going to have to sell before they buy this January, so the next month could be busy. Don’t bet against Lamine Koné or Jordan Pickford finding new clubs.
Sunderland Predicted Teamsheet:
Pickford; Love, Koné, Djilobodji, van Aanholt; Borini, Ndong, Denayer, Khazri; Anichebe, Defoe
When Will Manchester United vs Sunderland Take Place?
The match kicks off at 15:00 GMT on Monday 26 December, and will be played at Old Trafford. As usual, there will be a capacity crowd at the Theatre of Dreams on Boxing Day.
Manchester United vs Sunderland Match Prediction
One of the things keeping Sunderland at the bottom of the table is a dire away record that has seen them win just four points on the road all season. Their one win came with the help of a superhuman Jordan Pickford performance at Bournemouth.
The Black Cats will need something similar from their young keeper to stand a chance of getting anything out of this match. We can’t see it happening, reckon United should be able to steamroll Sunderland even if they may have to be patient breaking down a stubborn defence.
Our bet is on a 3-1 home win for the Red Devils.