Preview: Champions-Elect Unlikely To Come Bearing Gifts

Michael Regan

Sunderland's need for points is getting desperate, but the feel-good factor at Manchester United has the whole squad eager to impress. Here's all you need to know before Saturday lunchtime's meeting between the two.

Sunderland Team News

Both Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole were ruled out for the season this week as ankle and knee injuries respectively require further treatment.

Whilst Cattermole's absence from the side had been ongoing, the loss of Fletcher could force Martin O'Neill into a re-think - most likely reverting to the system used earlier in the season, with Danny Graham a lone front man ahead of the roaming Stephane Sessegnon - or even promote Connor Wickham to the starting line-up and retain two strikers.

Elsewhere, Carlos Cuellar will miss out, further reducing O'Neill's defensive options. Titus Bramble is the most likely to step in, or we could even see Kader Mangane make his debut.

Manchester United Team News

With an FA Cup quarter-final replay on Monday, Sir Alex Ferguson has already hinted that he could rotate his squad for the trip to Wearside.

Anders Lindegaard, Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling are all likely to feature, whilst Nani, Paul Scholes and Phil Jones have all trained this week and pushing for inclusion.

Predicted Lineups

Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, Bramble, O'Shea, Rose; Johnson, Larsson, Colback, McClean; Sessegnon; Graham

Manchester United: Lindegaard; Jones, Smalling, Evans, Evra; Kagawa, Scholes, Anderson; Nani, Hernandez, Welbeck

Key Matchup: Simon Mignolet Vs Javier Hernandez

‘Chicarito' is likely to make just his seventh start in the league this season - the Mexican is the most obvious casualty of Robin Van Persie's arrival in the summer. Despite his reduced playing time, he has still managed eight league goals and will be keen to show his worth once more. Mignolet has been Sunderland's stand-out performer this season, at times preserving points or flat out keeping them in games. He will need to be his typically alert self to deny the fleet-footed Hernandez.

Recent Form: WWWWW

Win: Fulham 0-1 Manchester United (Rooney 79)

Win: Manchester United 2-0 Everton (Giggs 13, Van Persie 45)

Win: Queens Park Rangers 0-2 Manchester United (Rafael 23, Giggs 80)

Win: Manchester United 4-0 Norwich City (Kagawa 45, 76 and 87, Rooney 90)

Win: Manchester United 1-0 Reading (Rooney 21)

Last Time Around: Sunderland 0-1 Manchester United, 13/05/12

Wayne Rooney scored, Manchester United won. From a Sunderland perspective, it was about as routine as it gets against United, although not having to look over our shoulders at the relegation outcome added somewhat of a new feel to it. Yet, despite the win, the day was marred with controversy as Sunderland fans were blamed for a voodoo terrace dance that inspired two late goals at the Etihad Stadium - enabling United's cross-city rivals Manchester City to win the Premier League title.

The Ref: Kevin Friend

Sunderland have a bit of a mixed record with the Leicestershire official in charge - Friend has overseen two wins over Manchester City at the Stadium of Light, but also a cup exit at home to Bolton Wanderers this season, and a 4-0 defeat away to Everton last.

Having been mainly utilised in the Premier League this season, Friend was chosen to officiate the Capital One Cup final last month.

What The Managers Said

Martin O'Neill:

The performance last time out [against Norwich] wasn't too good - we didn't create enough against 10 men.

Of course, Manchester United have been the best side in the league this season. They've come from behind in matches to win, and won a lot of games.

Whatever side they put out will be capable of winning matches, as has been proved year in, year out.

But it's about what we do ourselves. We have some matches to win. There are games coming up which are difficult on paper, but we should look forward to them.

We need to win games and the sooner we do that, the better.

Sir Alex Ferguson:

There's not any bitterness from my point of view [about the incident last season]. It happens and we move on.

We've dusted ourselves down and made a really good challenge in the league this year. The concentration has been fantastic and the team spirit is really good. So, in that respect, we've answered as best we can.

Roker Report Predicts

A labouring afternoon, against a United side which could well be without its main players.

Sunderland have lacked the drive and capability to get in behind opposition defences of late, and there is little to suggest a remarkable turnaround is forthcoming. A 0-1 win for the visitors, with Simon Mignolet displaying his usual excellence to prevent any further damage.

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