The red half of Manchester have had a peculiar season thus far. The appointment of Jose Mourinho in the summer sent ripples of expectation hurtling through United fan’s hearts and minds - this was it, their time to shine once more. Alas, things never quite play out as we expect them to in football, and the opening scenes of Jose’s tenure were a frustrating affair.
Yet, success is a word that seems to follow Mourinho wherever he goes, and recent performances have gone a long way to prove that he could be the man capable of returning United back to their glories of old.
Coming into Monday’s game, United find themselves undefeated in their last 8 with 3 consecutive victories - something they will be expecting to improve on. Sunderland, however, will not roll over and offer themselves as a sacrificial offering to Mourinho’s improving squad.
Other than the freak 3-0 defeat away to Swansea, Sunderland’s defence has looked solid in the last few weeks; a fact compounded by the squad’s ability to keep leaders Chelsea to a single goal in their victory at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland will go to Old Trafford and allow United to control the game, instead looking for an opportunity to hit United with the pace of Van Aanholt, or via more direct means - utilizing Anichebe’s physical presence to allow other players the opportunity to feed off him. Will the likes of Valencia, Smalling and Rojo be able to cope with his sheer power? Possibly not.
United may further struggle to break down our stubborn squad - an issue they’ve faced all season. The emergence of Henrikh Mkhitaryan as an attacking midfielder capable of unlocking defences was a welcome relief, yet his recent injury may have impacted his ability in the short-term. Questions linger as to whether he will be risked this weekend or not.
Statistically Sunderland look an inferior team, yet one potentially crucial battle that could alter the game will be the battle in the centre of midfield. If Denayer and Ndong can prevent messrs Carrick and Herrera from dictating play, then Sunderland might find some joy through frustrating United into making rash decisions. This coupled with the Anichebe-effect (a fully qualified Scientific term nowadays) could certainly pose United some problems this Monday.
We have a task on our hands, there’s no doubt about it, yet something deep in the corner of my mind still holds a spark of hope. If Moyes can motivate his men, and perfect his gameplan, then Sunderland may well be able to stifle the Red Devils and possibly snatch a point or more.
While Jose Mourinho has few concerns regarding player injuries, the same cannot be said for Sunderland.
The likes of Billy, Javier, Jack Rodwell and Steven Pienaar are making progress. I expect some of them to make the [Manchester United] game, not all of them. I also have to take into consideration we have a game four or five days later as well, we can’t bring anybody back that could re-injure.
Donald Love looks set to make a return to Old Trafford to play against his former club, and who can complain after last weekend’s impressive display? Mocked in his opening outings, Love’s recent displays have certainly enhanced his fledgling reputation. Adnan Januzaj will not grace the field with his presence, however, due to the terms of his loan deal.
Further bad news followed in Friday’s presser:
Jan Kirchhoff has had surgery on his knee too, that will keep him out for about 12 weeks, we think.
The injury plague continues to haunt Werside, with Jan Kirchhoff another long-term injury woe after undergoing surgery on a damaged knee that will keep him out for around 12 weeks. It’s a sad state of affairs for Kirchhoff - who’s contract runs out in the summer - as questions linger over his future at the club - a matter that the injury will not help to solve.
Lee Cattermole, Lynden Gooch and Duncan Watmore will keep Kirchhoff company in the recovery room while Moyes has hinted that he’s rather reluctant to throw recently injured players back into the arena.
I’m an exponent of sticking with a winning formula, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Moyes stick with the team that overcame Watford last weekend - aside from the enforced absence of Adnan Januzaj.
Predicted XI: Pickford, PVA, Djilobodji, Kone, Love, Denayer, Larsson, Ndong, Borini, Anichebe, Defoe.
Score Prediction: I’m going to go for an overly optimistic 1-1 draw. I think United will struggle to break us down, and you have to fancy Sunderland to cause issues with the presence of Anichebe and the guile of Defoe.