Sunderland - Manchester United Preview: Premier League leaders seek sixth-straight clean sheet
Martin O'Neill, who has not tasted victory since January, was dealt another blow this week as Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole were ruled out for the rest of the season
By Oliver Platt
Gardner, O'Shea, Bramble, Rose
Johnson, Larsson, N'Diaye, McClean
Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra
Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa
Sunderland's survival hopes were dealt a significant blow this week after it was confirmed that both Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole would miss the rest of the season.
Fletcher is the Black Cats' top scorer with 11 league goals this season but the attacking burden will now fall upon January signing Danny Graham.
Stephane Sessegnon is expected to return from a groin injury and is likely to support Graham in a 4-4-1-1 formation. David Vaughan (groin) should be available but Carlos Cuellar (ankle) is a doubt and Wes Brown (knee) is injured.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, could ring the changes ahead of his side's FA Cup quarter-final replay against Chelsea on Monday.
Chicharito is likely to start in attack but Ferguson may not risk resting both Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. Nani (hamstring), Paul Scholes (knee) and Phil Jones (ankle) are nearing returns after spells on the sidelines but this match may come too soon for them.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- Steven Fletcher has scored a third of Sunderland's 33 league goals so far this season, a larger percentage than Robin van Persie has contributed for Manchester United (28 per cent).
- While they have struggled to score goals, only Stoke have a better defensive record than the Black Cats of clubs currently lying in the bottom half of the Premier League.
- Sunderland beat Manchester City both this season and last at the Stadium of Light but have not toppled United on home turf in the top flight since 1997.
- Adam Johnson's performances since his move from Manchester City have often come under scrutiny this season but the winger has created more chances (44) than any of his team-mates in 2012-13.
- Having collected 74 points from 29 games, Manchester United remain on course to break Chelsea's record Premier League points tally of 95.
- Despite suffering slip-ups in the FA Cup and Champions League, United have kept clean sheets in five consecutive league matches.
- Left-back Patrice Evra (pictured right) has played more minutes (2,430) than any other United player in the league this season.
- No player in the top flight has hit the woodwork more than Van Persie this season. The Dutchman has been denied by a post or the crossbar seven times.
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Top 3 Predictions
Sunderland 0-3 Manchester United
- 20.89 %
Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United
- 20.35 %
Sunderland 1-3 Manchester United
- 15.24 %
|Premier League (EPL)||5 Oct 2013||Sunderland 1 - Manchester United 2|
|Premier League (EPL)||30 Mar 2013||Sunderland 0 - Manchester United 1|
|Premier League (EPL)||15 Dec 2012||Manchester United 3 - Sunderland 1|
|Premier League (EPL)||13 May 2012||Sunderland 0 - Manchester United 1|
|Premier League (EPL)||5 Nov 2011||Manchester United 1 - Sunderland 0|
|30 Nov 2013||Aston Villa 0 - Sunderland 0||EPL|
|23 Nov 2013||Stoke City 2 - Sunderland 0||EPL|
|10 Nov 2013||Sunderland 1 - Manchester City 0||EPL|
|6 Nov 2013||Sunderland 2 - Southampton 1||CCUP|
|2 Nov 2013||Hull City 1 - Sunderland 0||EPL|
|1||David de Gea||Goalkeeper|
|20||Robin van Persie||Striker|
Central midfield has not been a strength for Sunderland this season and it is unlikely to be an area of the pitch the Black Cats control on Saturday. Larsson, though, has the ability to provide quality from set-piece situations and his current tally of 14 chances created from free kicks and corners puts him on a par with Robin van Persie. Those deliveries are likely to be the best hope Sunderland have of passing the league leaders' rearguard.
Despite an impressive first half of the season, Chicharito has found himself at the bottom of the pecking order among Manchester United's attackers for much of 2012-13. With Robin van Persie enduring a rare off-colour spell, though, Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to rest the Dutchman more regularly between now and the end of the season and that will hand Chicharito the chance to lead the line in matches such as this one.
Sunderland have seriously suffered from a lack of attacking quality this season and that problem has only been compounded by the season-ending injury to top scorer Steven Fletcher. Their poor record against Manchester United stretches back years and years and, when both have been in the top flight, rarely has the gulf between the two clubs looked greater than it does currently.
Times In BST
Live Final scheduled Suspended Cancelled Postponed