Match Preview: Sunderland vs Manchester United

What I saw last Saturday was by no means appropriate vindication for the 9-hour train journey that I forced myself to endure. The impressive pre-season turned out to be nothing but a sick practical joke, expertly pulled off by Louis van Gaal and Co. I was definitely forced to pay for my naivety and undeserved optimism, the problems that Manchester United had last year have by no means dissipated along with David Moyes. Even the ‘Iron Tulip’ might have underestimated the difficulty of this job. Lots of work needs to be done, but with Louis van Gaal at the helm I do believe that things will only improve.

The acquisition of the Argentinian World Cup finalist Marcos Rojo has somewhat silenced the people calling for Ed Woodward’s head (for now). The left sided centre back (who can also play as a left wingback) has received 21 bookings and 4 red cards in the past two seasons, he often does rabona clearances in his own box and has heavily tattooed thighs. Not necessarily the reliable and experienced presence that Manchester United’s defence so badly missed against Swansea, but his technical quality and energy could galvanise a somewhat beleaguered back line. A new face at the club always induces an optimistic atmosphere nonetheless.

Along with Rojo, Louis van Gaal will have other options to choose from for Sundays encounter with Sunderland. Robin van Persie looks set to play his first match of the season following a break from the first team in order to return to full fitness. Danny Welbeck trained with the first team yesterday alongside James Wilson; both players could feature on Sunday. Rafael and Shinji Kagawa are also available for selection; Tom Cleverley has recovered from a virus to be a possible option as well.

Marouane Fellaini (ankle) and Jesse Lingard (knee) will play no part in the upcoming match due to injury, a return date hasn’t been confirmed for either player. Antonio Valencia is still suffering from a leg injury but could make the bench at the Stadium of Light. Michael Carrick and Luke Shaw are still recovering from their injuries.

Sunderland snatched a late equalizer away to West Brom at the Hawthorns in their opening game of the season. A club that looked destined for relegation not so long ago can look at the next 9 months with a lot of enthusiasm.

Gus Poyet has gone about his business quietly in this transfer window, the most notable signing being Jack Rodwell from Manchester City. A bright English talent wasn’t given the chance to blossom at a club of such stature; at Sunderland Rodwell will feel that he has a point to prove, with the departure of Ki from the side it seems that Rodwell will fill that holding central midfield role. Other signings include 24 year old Will Buckley from Brighton and Jordi Gomez from Wigan.

After a generally quite problematic season the Sunderland manager has told a significant number of players that they are no longer wanted. To be precise, 20 players have left the club this summer. The fact that only 7 have been brought in can potentially be a cause for concern amongst Sunderland fans. The Wearside club will only have 2 absentees on Sunday; Vergini suffered a knock in training this week and won’t play a part, Emanuel Giaccherini is sidelined due to a groin problem.

If you want to see the last time Sunderland beat Manchester United at home in the Premier League you’d have to date back to March 1997. The home team ran out 2-1 winners on that day courtesy of goals from Michael Gray and John Mullin (I have no idea who they are, either) Sunderland will look to take the game to Manchester United in front of their own supporters. The attacking talents of Adam Johnson and dead ball prowess of Seb Larsson can provide a real threat if utilised smartly. Former Manchester United defenders Wes Brown and John O’Shea can both be very robust on their day. Should the United defence absorb the pressure capably I can see chances being created at the other end.

Last weeks display provided very little to get excited about. Louis van Gaal has undoubtedly been very busy ever since Saturday’s capitulation. Although the underlying issues at Manchester United will take time to resolve its safe to say that particular deficiency’s shown against Swansea would have been addressed by Van Gaal and Co.

Prediction: Sunderland 1-2 Manchester United