Michael Owen recently declared himself fit for the Christmas period, which comes as a boost to manager Sir Alex Ferguson. But the experienced forward is likely to remain a fringe player, as he remains well down the pecking order at Old Trafford.
Paul Scholes (groin) is not expected to return for another two weeks, while Antonio Valencia (ankle) and Owen Hargreaves (hamstring) remain sidelined.
Possible starting line-up: Van der Sar; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Park, Fletcher, Carrick, Nani; Berbatov, Rooney.
Lee Cattermole is suspended for this encounter after an accumulation of bookings. Danny Welbeck will also be unavailable, as he is on loan from United and is not allowed to take part in this game.
Michael Turner (knee), Titus Bramble (knee), Andy Reid (hamstring) and Fraiser Campbell (knee) are all unavailable through injury.
Possible starting line-up: Gordon; Onuoha, Mensah, Ferdinand, Bardsley; Henderson, Meyler, Malbranque, Richardson; Bent, Gyan.
Top of the table
United have done very well to surge forward to the top of the table owing to Chelsea’s poor form, and now have a two-point lead over second placed Arsenal with a game in hand.
This puts them in a very strong position ahead of this Boxing Day fixture, and confidence can be taken from the fact that they have been traditionally superb during this period.
Of their last 16 outings right after Christmas, the Red Devils have gone on to win 15 of them. Sir Alex Ferguson’s charges have also been at the top of the league at this stage on five previous occasions, and went on to win the Premier League in four of them.
If that is not enough, the Old Trafford outfit remain the only team in the top-flight who are yet to be beaten in the league, and have won their last three games on the domestic circuit.
And the recent victory over Arsenal would likely lift the spirits of even the most pessimistic of United fans, as they head into this home game against Steve Bruce’s side.
Bruce looking for his maiden triumph over Ferguson
The Sunderland manager was a previous Manchester United player – and captain - himself, and knows precisely how the mood will be in the opposite camp ahead of this game.
But his own players’ achievements are no less significant, as they are currently placed sixth in the standings. And having carved out a previous 3-0 victory over Chelsea, the Black Cats may fancy their chances against their opponents.
However, Bruce is yet to beat his former boss in the tactical field, as he has never bested Ferguson during his years as a manager. But he will know that it nearly happened last season, when the Wearsiders were leading 2-1 and looked like winning the game before an own goal from Anton Ferdinand during stoppage time meant that it ended all square.
But is has been four decades – 42 years, to be precise – since Sunderland managed to beat the Red Devils in their own backyard, which means that the current crop will go into the club’s history books if they manage to pull off what would seem an unlikely victory.