If there was ever evidence that statistics can be deceiving then Manchester United’s unbeaten league run is the go-to example. The run now stretches to 19 games undefeated, but with little demonstrable progress to show for it. The Reds make the trip to Sunderland desperate to ensure that David Moyes is not the man to break the lossless streak.
It’s the season of goodwill, but there may be little of it at Old Trafford for former Manchester United boss David Moyes when his Sunderland team arrives on Boxing Day. There has been a feeling of indifference towards Sir Alex Ferguson’s hapless successor in the period since he was sacked in 2014. Moyes was hopelessly out of his depth at United, and although his dismissal was handled poorly, it was absolutely the right thing to do. The Scot contributed heavily to the club’s post-Fergie malaise, and should never have been given the job in the first place. Much of the blame has been levelled at the powers who appointed him. As such, there wasn’t a substantial amount of disdain towards the Scot. Until now.
In a week where all the talk around Manchester United has been firmly centred off the pitch it may have escaped many observers that the Reds travel to Sunderland on Saturday searching for the three most important points of the season. Rumours that José Mourinho is coming dominated the headlines early in the week, with many pundits claiming a deal has been completed for the former Chelsea boss to succeed Louis van Gaal in the summer. Then, on Thursday, executive vice chairman Ed Woodward briefed investors that the club is confident of breaking half a billion in revenue by the end of the year. Supporters might be forgiven for thinking everything is going well at Old Trafford. Read More
Defeat at the Liberty Stadium last weekend was just Manchester United’s second in 20 league and cup matches; a data point to prove that glib stats offer very little insight. It was, after all, also the second reverse that Louis van Gaal’s side had suffered in six games, during a period in which the Reds style has been roundly criticised. For a man that arrived at Old Trafford with a genuine sense of aura, Van Gaal is now very much under pressure.
Pressure is building because United’s path to Champions League football next season is far from clear. United remains in a five-way fight for just two spots at Europe’s top-table, with Arsenal and Liverpool in, arguably, better form than the Dutchman’s side. Southampton’s resilience and Tottenham Hotspur’s progression under Mauricio Pochettino look likely to remain a factor with just 12 games to go.
By contrast Van Gaal’s side has seemingly made little progress this season – even when a rash of early-campaign injuries cleared up after the Christmas period. In recent matches United has been reduced to a desperate long ball game, aimed at using Marouane Fellaini’s physical prowess. It is an agricultural approach not seen at Old Trafford since Dave Sexton’s disastrous reign in the 1970s.
Timely, perhaps, that Sunderland arrives in the midst of a run of form that includes just one victory from nine league games. Gus Poyet’s side is three points above the relegation zone. United, meanwhile, remains in a dog-fight for European qualification. The club’s – and perhaps even Van Gaal’s – future will be significantly damaged should Sunderland repeat last season’s 1-0 victory at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Van Gaal will be without Robin van Persie for the Mackems‘ visit. The the much-maligned Dutchman out for around a month with an ankle injury suffered against Swansea City last weekend. However, midfielder Michael Carrick is back in training after a calf problem. The Englishman’s lack of match fitness means a place on the bench is most likely, with Wayne Rooney again deployed in midfield.
In Van Persie’s absence Radamel Falcao could earn a recall, with pacy youngster James Wilson also available, not that United’s coach believes the new partnership will bare immediate fruit.
“It is a process between players. When Falcao is used to playing with van Persie then, when he plays with Wilson, he starts another process. That’s why I started with Falcao and van Persie,” said the veteran coach on Friday.
“Now maybe is the time to start a process between Falcao and Wilson. They haven’t played so much together, I believe once or twice. You can see that Wilson is also left-footed like van Persie and Falcao is right-footed. I have used Rooney as the right-footed striker and Wilson as a left-footed striker, that is why I kept these four players at the start of the season.”
Meanwhile, Poyet is without Emanuele Giaccherini, who underwent ankle surgery this week. The Italian winger is unlikely to play again this season, while Billy Jones and Jack Rodwell remain on the sidelines. New signing Jermain Defoe is fit to continue his partnership with Conor Wickham up front in a 4-4-2 system that Poyet has adopted in recent matches.
Despite Sunderland’s poor form this season Poyet remains upbeat – not least because of the Mackems’ victory at Old Trafford last year.
“Manchester United have to come back and they know us well from what happened last year, so they know they will face a team who could find Old Trafford a nice place to play football,” said the Sunderland manager.
“It is going to be competitive and we need to be spot on defensively because they have quality players. If everyone is fit they have an incredible team.”
Van Gaal, meanwhile, must turn that “incredible team” into points ahead of a daunting March and April fixture schedule. United must play Arsenal, twice, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Chelsea before the campaign ends. It leaves the Dutchman with little margin for error, especially against teams in Sunderland’s lowly position.
Yet, the Reds can also boast the second best home record in the Premier League, including a record of 10 victories in the past 12 Premier League games at Old Trafford. Continuation depends in no small part on United finding a route to goal – one that has proven difficult for United’s strikers this season.
“It is true because I cannot deny it,” said Van Gaal of his forwards profligacy this season. “Robin van Persie cannot deny it, Falcao cannot deny it and Rooney is not playing there much any more. We cannot deny that, at this moment, we don’t have a striker who scores 20 goals in the season.”
Just one will probably do on Saturday.
United (4-1-3-2): De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Shaw; Blind; Fellaini, Rooney, Di Maria; Wilson, Falcao
Sunderland (4-4-2): Pantilimon; Vergini, O’Shea, Brown, Reveillere; Alvarez, Cattermole, Larsson, Johnson; Wickham, Defoe
United: Valdes, Evans, Rafael, McNair, James, Smalling, Blackett, Januzaj, Young, Herrera, Pereira
Sunderland: Mannone, Coates, Van Aanholt, Bridcutt, Buckley, Gomez, Fletcher, Graham
United 62 – Draw 37 – Sunderland 41
Referee: Roger East
Assistants: G Beswick, R West
Fourth Official: M Atkinson
United 3-1 Sunderland
£1 bet club
James Wilson to score twice @ 6/1
Running total: £1.50 up!
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Losing at home was a David Moyes thing – all seven of them in the Premier League last season. Ground zero of Manchester United’s worst campaign in more than 25 years. Louis van Gaal’s appointment was, by contrast, the start of a bright new dawn: sophisticated tactics, positive attacking football and, above all, a clean slate. That pretense was blown away in 90 short minutes last weekend.
Success will surely come, but United’s defeat to Swansea City at Old Trafford laid bare just how far this United side has fallen. Premier League title winners little more than 15 months ago, United now faces the very real prospect of two seasons out of the Champions League. After all, Swansea’s victory did little more than expose just how fragile Van Gaal’s squad remains; short in defence, midfield and wide areas.
Confidence shattered, after what now seems a superficial period of redemption in the United States, the Reds travel to Sunderland more in hope than genuine belief. The Mackems have effectively beaten United three times on the spin – in the Capital One Cup semi-final over two legs and at Old Trafford in the Premier League in the Spring. There will be few on Wearside ready to let Van Gaal’s side have an easy ride on Sunday afternoon.
The remedy is both simple and complex. The charade that the club can buck the market trend and obtain English and European preeminence on will power and bargain signings alone has gone. In its place a new reality – that with no structural advantages, or Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm, United will compete in an open market against a slew of clubs willing to outspend the Glazer family.
Around £140 million has been spent in the past 12 months. It probably isn’t enough. Profits or points? Tampa Bay will decide. In the meantime Van Gaal is entrenched in the belief that his “philosophy” will bring success to United, with a recognition that there are few short-term fixes.
“Two weeks ago, I was the king of Manchester and now I am the devil,” the Dutchman said on Friday.
“It’s the football world and it is especially the media in this football world. I think the fans of Manchester United are intelligent. I’ve already said in all the press conferences in the USA that it shall be difficult in the first three months for the players especially, but also for the fans.
“I said to Ed Woodward and the Glazer family that it’s always like that and they have hired me because of my philosophy. I am not hired to be fired, but to build up a team and that is a process which needs time.”
It is, says Van Gaal, this philosophy that will take United on a journey back to the top. One where the Dutchman will only acquire players adhering to this vision – if Ed Woodward can deliver on the bold claims of early summer.
“I have brought another philosophy to the club and that is difficult,” adds Van Gaal.
“I have to give a lot of information and now we are in the process of a lot of information. For example, I have to drive at this moment on the left side and then I have to pay a lot of attention to drive properly. It costs me a lot of energy.
“I can imagine the fans are scared. They have seen already the last year and now seen also the first home match and then I can imagine that. But they have to believe in the philosophy we bring in to this club and the players believe that. They have shown already in the United States, now they have to show it here. That needs time.”
For the time being Van Gaal is set to take United into the season with Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw and Marcus Rojo as the clubs’ only summer recruits. Hardly the significant rebuilding promised. The irony of the trio being unavailable through injury for United’s trip to the North East will not be lost on the veteran Dutchman.
Shaw is unavailable due to injury, while Johnny Evans, Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck could also miss out, having missed last weekend’s fixture against The Swans. Herrera has an ankle problem and will miss at least a week, although Robin van Persie is available for selection. The Spaniard will have a scan on the injury this week, along with Marouane Fellaini who also has an ankle problem.
Jesse Lingard is out meaning Adnan Januzaj may have to fill in as an emergency right wing back unless Van Gaal risks Rafael da Silva.
Rojo is yet to receive a work permit despite completing his move from Sporting Lisbon on Thursday and does not travel. This is another change from the era of old – United used to apply for a work permit before completing an acquisition.
Meanwhile, Sunderland manager Gus Poyet could hand a home début to three transfer window signings: Jack Rodwell, Jordi Gomez and Patrick van Aanholt. Defenders Billy Jones and Santiago Vergini are available, however Emanuele Giaccherini misses the game with a groin injury.
“Playing Manchester United – one of the top teams in England and the world – makes it even more special, so we are really focused on being ready to play the game,” said Poyet.
“To win or to have a chance of winning against the top teams once you may be lucky, but to do it regularly you have to be playing at your best, take your chances and defend well. You have to have as close as possible to a perfect game.”
Generous words given United’s performance against Swansea last Saturday.
Still, history is at least on United’s side: the Reds are unbeaten in 12 league games at Sunderland since a 2-1 defeat in March 1997. This is no time for Van Gaal to start a Moyes-esque trend for breaking records.
But will victory at the Stadium of Light will contribute to a title victory come May? Van Gaal, like many supporters, has little belief.
“It’s a process and that process needs time. It’s not an overnight job. It is not a question of being champions at the end of the season because we have to build a team and that process takes maybe longer.”
Sunderland (4-4-2): Mannone; Roberge, O’Shea, Brown, Van Aanholt; Johnson, Rodwell, Cattermole, Larsson; Fletcher, Wickham
United (3-4-1-2): de Gea; Smalling, Jones, Blackett; Januzaj, Cleverley, Fletcher, Young; Mata; Rooney, Van Persie.
Sunderland: Pantilimon, Jones, Vergini, Bridcutt, Buckley, Gómez, Altidore, Mavrias, Graham, Mandron, Smith, Watmore, Agnew
United: Amos, Da Silva, Keane, James, Zaha, Powell, Anderson, Kagawa, Hernández, Wilson.
Sunderland 41- Draw 36 – United 62
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistants: S Child, H Lennard
Fourth Official: P Dowd
Sunderland 1 – 2 United
£1 bet club
Robin van Persie & 1-2 @ 18/1
Running total: £(-)1
Theres nothing quite like a 100 per cent record to lift the spirits! The Ryan Giggs roadshow rolls on after victory over Norwich City last weekend, with three games in seven days before the Welshman ends his brief stint as Manchester United’s interim manager. Whatever the 40-year-old’s future with the club – and a long-term role is still to be determined – it has been a period of much relief after 10 months in which David Moyes brought the club to its lowest point in 25 years. Not so under Giggs, with the interim manager rapidly heralding a period of new positivity at Old Trafford.
Giggs’ transformational work has been swift if much to do with a weight lifed from a squad that had been operating under a David Moyes-inspired cloud for much of the season. With lowly Sunderland at Old Trafford on Saturday, followed by Hull City on Tuesday, Giggs has a genuine opportunity to add to the rapidly growing momentum for his permanent installation as manager. United close the season at Southampton next weekend.
It remains unlikely that Giggs will be offered the manager’s job, with United still negotiating the Welshman’s role in Louis van Gaal’s prospective regime. Indeed, Giggs may be at the beginning of a fine coaching career with United after more than 23 years in the first team – or just three games from breaking lifelong ties to the club. Both options are seemingly open should the Welshman not receive a suitable offer from the club to continue in a playing or coaching capacity.
“Nothing has changed – it’s until the end of the season and we’ll chat when that’s over,” said Giggs on Friday. “My main concentration is on Sunderland tomorrow and the remaining two games.”
“I have got to decide if I want to play or not so there is no point thinking if I want to be an assistant or if I want to be a manager somewhere else. There are so many things to think about. The way I am thinking is I am enjoying it and then my concentration is on the remaining two games and then we will see what happens.
“My concentration is just on now. I’m still training and doing bits and pieces so I’m still in the frame on maybe playing in the remaining games. I’m just trying to keep myself fit and try to win every game. I might not get back into the team!”
Whatever Giggs’ future role the short-term focus remains on the pitch with United seeking a positive end to a dismissal season. The Reds face a stern test on Saturday whenever the renewed confidence in Giggs’ camp. After all, Sunderland remains desperate for points with Gus Poyet’s side escaping the bottom three only on goal difference after two victories in succession. Fixtures against Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion close out the Mackems’ season in what could yet be an escape from the drop that few predicted at the turn of the year.
Meanwhile, United may be without Wayne Rooney, who is suffering from a minor groin problem and a bug that has swept through the United camp. However, Robin van Persie has trained all week and should make the match day squad. In Rooney’s absence the Dutchman may yet start in what could become a two-way fight for one place in van Gaal’s side next season.
“A few of the lads have had a bug,” said Giggs. “Wayne has and Anders [Lindegaard] has too. Wayne also has a tight groin. You have to be careful with the bug because the immune system is down a bit but Wayne, being Wayne, wants to play. We’ll monitor it over the next 24 hours. Robin has been back training this week and has looked good. Whether tomorrow is too early, we’ll just have to see how he goes today. He has looked really good this week.”
The visitors arrive in solid form having secured a draw against Manchester City at the Etihad, followed by victories over Chelsea and Cardiff City. The haul of seven points from nine has taken the Mackems from bottom place to a position of safety with a game in hand over the club’s principal rivals for the drop.
On the pitch manager Poyet has Phil Bardsley available again after the defender completed a two-match suspension. The former Red will compete with January signing Santiago Vergini for a place in the Sunderland side at Old Trafford.
Meanwhile, Connor Wickham has finally hit a patch of form after three difficult seasons with the club. The £8 million striker has scored five goals in three games, while on-loan forward Fabio Borini has enjoyed a positive season on Wearside in a strike force that could cause United’s old guard plenty of trouble on the break.
At the back former Reds John O’Shea and Wes Brown will again start in central defence. Neither has enjoyed an injury-free campaign, nor in truth a successful one, but will surely relish one more visit to the old stomping ground – and a meeting with former team-mate Giggs.
“I have always thought that Ryan would eventually manage a team,” said Brown, who spent 14 seasons at United.
“It is under bad circumstances in the way that he has gone in, I am sure he is thriving on it and looking forward to the next few games ahead. Everything at the moment is going to be in their favour. They have got a new lease of life, they will definitely be up for the game and the crowd will as well. They are looking to next season now and we have got to drain that out of them by doing what we have done it the last couple of weeks.”
Indeed, the positivity surrounding the Giggs bandwagon will come under pressure from a Sunderland outfit that has scored eight in three games. That is to say little of the Carling Cup victory secured over United in January – just one of many low points this season.
Still, if Giggs is to secure a permanent role in van Gaal’s camp – a manager the Welshman described as having a “fantastic pedigree” on Friday – nine points from the next three will do little harm, even if the Welshman claims to be focused on the here and now. With just maybe just a touch on the future too.
“My concentration is just on managing United now. The only peace and quiet you do get is when you are on the training pitch. As soon as you’re back in the office, you have meetings, you have calls. For example this week has been planning pre-season.”
Manchester United v Sunderland, Premier League, Old Trafford, 3pm, 3 May 2014
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Vidić, Evra; Januzaj, Fletcher, Carrick, Kagawa; Mata; Welbeck
Sunderland (4-5-1): Mannone; Vergini, Brown, O’Shea, Alonso; Johnson, Larsson, Cattermole, Colback, Borini; Wickham
United: Lindegaard, Büttner, Evans, Smalling, Cleverley, Fellaini, Valencia, Nani, Young, Hernández, van Persie
Sunderland: Ustari, Bardsley, Celustka, Dossena, Roberge, Ba, Bridcutt, Cabral, Gardner, Giaccherini, Mavrias, Altidore, Moberg-Karlsson, Scocco.
Head to Head
United 62 Draw 36 Sunderland 40
Referee: Howard Webb
Assistants: D Cann, S Massey
Fourth Official: A Marriner
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It is not as if David Moyes lacks for practice this season, but the Scot does an increasingly impressive line in dead pan comedy. At least that is one interpretation of the Moyes’ reaction to United’s latest – the ninth – defeat of a frankly disastrous season. “We were unlucky,” said Moyes in the aftermath. “I thought we played quite well at times.” It was a line that the Scot took into the dressing room according to at least one post-match report; analysis that is unlikely to have impressed seasoned campaigners who know far better. The Reds were neither unlucky, nor did they play well in the capital.
The latest knock to United’s hopes, and Moyes’ credibility, was comprehensive defeat at Stamford Bridge, no matter how generous the analysis of United’s fleeting toehold in the game. The Reds’ positive start in west London would yield few chances, let alone goals; and with United’s defence erring on the side of embarrassing calamity at the other end there was little surprise at the ease of Chelsea’s eventual victory. That José Mourinho’s side barely broke sweat must be a concern not only in United’s dressing room, but the boardroom. For while Moyes’ players are not performing, they are not performing for him.
Indeed, prior to United’s Capital One Cup first leg encounter with Sunderland a fortnight ago veteran Scot Darren Fletcher had proclaimed there “no point” in turning up if Moyes’ players could not motivate themselves for the game. It turned out to be a prescient comment, with United largely run ragged by one of the Premier League’s worst sides.
So to Wednesday at Old Trafford, with Moyes afforded the opportunity for at least a modicum of satisfaction this month. Should United beat Sunderland, to join Manchester City in the Capital One Cup final at Wembley in March, Moyes will be within reach of his first trophy as a manager. Few may back United to beat City, but a final, is a final, after all.
Yet, the desire to beat Sunderland must be qualified and with it comes a measure of United’s fall from grace this season. That the Premier League champions should start a cup semi-final encounter against perennial relegation fodder genuinely unsure of the result is a sign of changing times indeed.
Victory by a single goal should be enough for Moyes’ outfit, but four Premier League defeats on home turf this season point to a potentially difficult night ahead all the same. In fact Moyes’ side has lost four of the past seven home matches, while Gus Poyet’s outfit has lost just one in 10.
Still, there is a cup final at stake. Another trip to Wembley, another opportunity to deny City further trophies in that once traditionally barren cupboard. Confidence may be lacking, both on the pitch and the terraces, but there is an opportunity to put one over the old enemy nonetheless. One for the fans, as Moyes might put it.
“We’re going to go out and do everything we can to get through,” the manager told MUTV in the aftermath of defeat at Stamford Bridge. “I want to give the supporters something to cheer about. There’s not been an awful lot and I’m fully aware of that.”
If victory is to come ‘for the fans’ then it will do so without either Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie. One, or perhaps both of the strike pair, could make United’s Premier League encounter with Cardiff City at Old Trafford next Tuesday, but neither is ready for Sunderland. Indeed, Moyes will be short in multiple areas, with Nemanja Vidić starting the first of a three match suspension following his dismissal at Stamford Bridge. Nani is definitely out, while Marouanne Fellaini is not yet ready for competitive football, and Patrice Evra picked up a knock at Stamford Bridge.
Still, there should be no doubt in the dressing room of the fixture’s importance, with the Premier League title now way beyond United’s reach and few bold enough to predict victory in Europe this season. With Moyes credibility in question, silverware is the Scot’s only legitimate response to critics keen to point the finger at the manager’s failings.
“It was always massively important to us – we want to win every competition. Now we have to go out and produce the goods. We have to get to that final,” said youngster Phil Jones, who partnered Michael Carrick in midfield at Chelsea
“The fans have been terrific and they were great again on Sunday. They’ve not had the easiest of times this season but they’ve stuck by us and that’s important. We all need to stick together – fans, players, staff – and we’ll come out stronger for that.”
It is a positive spin on a tough season, although there are few guarantees that United will improve as the campaign draws on. There has been little sign of it to date.
Meanwhile, the visitors have received a boost from Poyet’s appointment. The trauma of Paolo di Canio’s short reign now forgotten, Sunderland can legitimately hope for Premier League survival this season having briefly moved outside the bottom three at the weekend. There were more than a few occasions through the autumn that relegation looked certain.
And the more positive outlook received a double boost this week, with Sunderland bringing in defender Santiago Vergini and goalkeeper Oscar Ustari on loan. Neither is likely to start at Old Trafford, while striker Steven Fletcher is an injury concern. Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood and defender Carlos Cuellar remain on the sidelines.
“You don’t get to a semi-final every year – sometimes not even in 10 years,” said Poyet ahead of Wednesday’s game.
“It’s a great opportunity to put ourselves in a final but we’ve only done part of the job. We must go there and try to make sure we finish the job and put ourselves in the final. We’re going to play the game as normal. It’s a game we need to manage properly. We need a complete game – we must defend well, be strong and be good on the ball. We must attack to create chances and score goals. If we score then it will be more difficult for Manchester United.”
The Mackems have won just two of the past 25 meetings with United in all competitions, with both victories coming in the League Cup. Few will back the visitors to repeat the 2-1 win a fortnight ago. Yet, while that victory may have come with a touch of fortune, it was still hard earned. This is a lesson that United’s under-performing stars will do well to heed, lest their manager take more heat in a most difficult campaign.
Manchester United v Sunderland, Capital One Cup, 7.45pm, 22 January 2014
United (4-5-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Buttner; Valencia, Carrick, Fletcher, Young; Januzaj; Welbeck. Subs from: Lindegaard, Smalling, Kagawa, Zaha, Giggs, Hernández, Cleverley, Fabio
Sunderland (4-5-1): Mannone; Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso; Larsson, Colback, Cattermole, Ki, Johnson; Borini. Subs from: Gardner, Fletcher, Celustka, Pickford, Giaccherini, Roberge, Altidore, Vergini, Ustari
United 56 Draw 28 Sunderland 37
Referee: Lee Mason
Assistant Referees: Jake Collin and Simon Long
Fourth Official: Michael Dean
Rarely in recent times can a League Cup fixture have been so important. Seventh in the Premier League and dumped out of the FA Cup, the Capital One Cup now represents Manchester United’s best – perhaps only – realistic shot at silverware in a season that has lurched from one crisis-of-confidence to another. While it is easy for supporters to find themselves wrapped up in media hyperbole, there is little doubt fundamental changes for the negative have taken place at Old Trafford since David Moyes was appointed in July 2013. The question remains whether United reached a nadir in defeat to Swansea City at the weekend, or if the worst is still to come.
Certainly, while Moyes’ squad is low on confidence, the Scot should take heart from United’s form on the road as the Reds head to the north east for Tuesday’s cup match at Sunderland. Moyes’ side is unbeaten in the last seven games away from home, and have won the last three.
Indeed, United also emerged victorious from the Premier League clash at the Stadium of Light in October, with teenager Adnan Januzaj scoring twice on his full début to rescue three points for the Reds. Still, it was another uncertain performance from United, with Craig Gardner’s early goal handing struggling Sunderland a deserved half-time lead until Januzaj’s double.
That victory had come after defeats to Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion in late September, leaving United to muster similar resolve for Tuesday’s first leg. The team has been here far too many times this season.
Still, facing the worst team in the Premier League, midfielder Darren Fletcher says that the Reds have no excuses for underperformance on Wearside after a “bad result” that “let the manager and the fans down” on Sunday.
“It’s a League Cup semi-final, if you can’t lift yourself for that then it’s no good,” said the 29-year-old midfielder who only recently returned from more than a year on the sidelines with an acute bowel condition.
“We have got a great opportunity, we are away to Sunderland and we’ve got to recover quickly and lift ourselves. That’s a massive game now.”
“The players know that the fans are behind us and put performances in for the them, the manager and the staff. It’s got to happen sooner rather than later and there’s not better occasion than the semi-final on Tuesday.”
Moyes side heads into the game carrying injuries, although the Scot may well field a stronger team that the one which faced Swansea in Manchester. However, Rio Ferdinand is likely to miss the game after limping off against the Welsh side, while Phil Jones, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney are all unlikely to return before the weekend’s Old Trafford rematch with the Swans.
It is a glut of absences that have patently disrupted United this season, although Moyes has failed to help his own cause by rushing both van Persie and Rooney back from injuries. On each occasion the player suffered fresh injury to stoke further controversy surrounding the Scot’s training methods.
Moyes blames a crowded fixture list for a physio room that now extends to eight players amid 63 separate injuries since the 50-year-old replaced Sir Alex Ferguson.
“Injuries are part of football and there’s very little we can do about most of them. I think they’re down to the large number of games we play as well,” said the United manager.
“Robin’s been out with a sore groin; he played really well against Arsenal and scored the winner. We gave him a week’s holiday to recover – he didn’t go away with Holland – he came back and hasn’t really been right since. He played one game against Newcastle and, the next game, he pulled his thigh taking a corner.
“Wayne’s struggling now. He’s had it for three or four weeks and played through. We left him out for a game or two to try to recover it, but he’s now beginning to feel it a bit more and we have to be careful not to turn it into something worse. A week off might be enough or he might need a bit more than that – I think it’s the sort of thing that a couple of weeks might fix.”
Injuries and rotation mean that Moyes will almost certainly freshen his side up for Tuesday’s match, with captain Nemanja Vidić, Michael Carrick, Patrice Evra, David de Gea, and Adnan Januzaj set to start in a match Moyes has prioritised. Indeed, the manager is unlikely to dip into United’s reserve side again this season, having only blooded Januzaj from last season’s Under-21 Premier League champions.
Meanwhile, Sunderland continue to struggle under manager Gus Poyet’s stewardship this season. The Mackems lie bottom of the Premier League table with just 14 points from 20 games and may need a further 26 from 16 to survive.
It leaves the Capital One Cup run as a welcome distraction, both for manager and players. And akin to many of United’s opponents this season Sunderland, Poyet’s side is set to attack the Reds, believing Moyes side to be vulnerable.
“We are going out to win it and depending on how you play on the day, the decisions you take, the accidents players make, the idea remains the same, to go into every game to win it,” said Poyet, who was controversially sacked as manager of Brighton in the summer.
“This is the nicest part of the season because the rest has been a nightmare in the league, so let’s try and enjoy it and achieve something. I am looking forward to seeing my team playing and doing their best.
“The closer we get to the match will mean the players will feel the atmosphere more and it will be great for them, but I will remind them that on the day anyone can beat anyone.”
However, with Sunderland short of cover in defence United might also be best served by a policy of attack. Valentin Roberge, John O’Shea, Carlos Cuellar and Modibo Diakite are out injured, with South Korea midfielder Ki Sung-yeung playing at centre-half in Sunday’s FA Cup victory against Carlisle.
Still, history is against the home side, with Sunderland having gone 20 games without a win against United stretching back to a League Cup victory in 2000. Mind you, Swansea had never previously won at Old Trafford, while Everton and Newcastle United have each broken decades-long losing streaks at United’s home this season. It is a series of shattered records in which Moyes can hold no pride.
Yet, United is yet to concede a goal in this season’s Capital One Cup, beating Liverpool, Norwich City and Stoke City along the way. It is a positive omen in a season of fewer ups than downs.
Sunderland v Manchester United, Capital One Cup, Stadium of Light, 7.45pm, 7 January 2014
Sunderland (4-1-4-1): Mannone; Celustka, O’Shea, Brown, Dossena; Cattermole; Giaccherini, Gardner, Larsson, Johnson; Altidore. Subs from: Ki, Colback, Fletcher, Pickford, Bardsley, Alonso, Roberge, Borini, Ba, Karlsson, Mavrias
United (4-4-2): De Gea; Smalling, Evans, Vidić, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, Januzaj; Hernández, Welbeck. Subs from: Lindegaard, Buttner, Zaha, Fletcher, Anderson, Giggs, Kagawa
Sunderland 39 Draw 36 United 61
Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistant Referees: Sian Massey and Peter Bankes
Fourth Official: Craig Pawson
There are at least a couple of ways to assess Manchester United’s performance in Ukraine this week. That, as David Moyes and captain Nemanja Vidić have oft expressed, United’s defensive solidity and safety-first approach was key to securing a point in a tough away fixture. The alternate theory is less complimentary, although equally compelling: that the quality, or lack thereof, of Moyes’ squad has stripped the Scot’s confidence to such an extent that he no longer trusts to an open game against even middling opponents.
Good job that United faces nothing of the sort this weekend, cynics might add, with the Reds visiting managerless relegation-threatened Sunderland for what must surely be an open three points.
But there is more at stake for Moyes than Premier League position alone, important though that is even at this early stage of the campaign. After all, three league defeats on the spin would be a first for United in more than a decade.
And if the Reds cannot afford to drop further behind in the title race then the club’s new manager has little room to play with when it comes to confidence; of his players, of the media, and the club’s supporters. Indeed, defeat on Wearside could leave United close to the bottom three by the weekend’s conclusion.
Crisis? Now that would be a crisis.
Yet, Moyes is far more upbeat in his prognosis, speaking this week of his confidence not just in his players, but the club’s choice of new manager. Well, he would say that.
Still, the 50-year-old has made little secret of his desire for new blood – of the type and quality to go straight into the first team rather than pad out an already large squad. Whether Moyes achieves that result this January is another question it seems.
“Look, the quality of the players here is really top-end,” said the Scot. “They are great players to work with but, undoubtedly, we will, in time, try and make that better – the job is to make progress.
“They won the league last year but I want to try and progress on that, try to win it again and try to win the cups if possible as well.
“We’ll also look to add to the squad if the right players become available. I’ll look at January but I wouldn’t want people to have big expectations of what we would sign or do in January because I don’t think January has, in the main, been a great month to sign really at the top.”
Barely a week after executive vice president Ed Woodward briefed media outlets that Moyes’ transfer budget is substantial the manager has scotched thoughts of a spending frenzy in M16 this winter. It all sounds so familiar.
Whatever activity happens – or doesn’t – in January, Moyes has a substantial squad from which to select for the trip to the north east. While Rio Ferdinand and Tom Cleverley remain injury doubts, Wayne Rooney should return. The striker sat out United’s draw in Donetsk after he took a blow to his shin in training.
United’s back four should select itself after a solid performance in Ukraine, while Moyes is likely to revert to four across midfield for the Saturday evening kick-off. Michael Carrick, Marouanne Fellaini and two from Shinki Kagawa, Ashley Young, Nani and Antonio Valencia will make up United’s engine room.
Sunderland, meanwhile, has enjoyed a mini revival under temporary manager Kevin Ball. Sunderland owner Ellis Short made the sensible, if poorly timed, decision to fire Paolo di Canio, with the Italian widely believed to have lost all confidence in his methods throughout the Sunderland dressing room.
“It’s an important game we want to win. We’ll pick a team that we think can get a result,” said Moyes on Friday.
“I think I went there last time with Everton when Paolo Di Canio had just got the job and I lost in that game. It was probably one of the only games I lost at Everton in the last 11 or 12 matches. We didn’t lose that many.
“We go up there now with a new manager again, Kevin Ball. He’s very experienced, he knows the club and knows the players. He’ll have watched all the games and he’ll know what he has to do in this short-term period. Whether he gets the job or not Sunderland look as if they played quite well in the last couple of games.”
Loan striker Fabio Borini returns to the Sunderland squad after being ineligible to play against parent club Liverpool last weekend. However, former Red Wes Brown, together with Steven Fletcher and Andrea Dossena are all out, although John O’Shea will play.
Sunderland beat Peterborough in the league cup, but lost somewhat unfortunately to Liverpool last weekend in two matches under Ball. The 48-year-old coach in unlikely to take the job full-time, but the sense of relief ringing round the Stadium of Light against the Merseysiders was palpable.
Still, it is a match United should win – must some might say. Defeat might leave United on the edge of the relegation zone, while even a point is likely to see Moyes’ outfit some 10 points behind the Premier League leaders. Not a position from which many return to claim the title even at this stage of the season.
“We have to perform well at Sunderland, like we did against Shakhtar, in terms of our defending,” said captain Vidić. With the quality we have up front, we are always able to score goals. I think there’s no question about that. But we have to defend right and have the right mentality to ensure we can be in a good position.”
With a promising set of fixtures in the run up to Christmas the time is surely now for Moyes’ side to come out of its shell. The cocoon was self-imposed in Donetsk. No repeat necessary on Wearside.
Sunderland v Manchester United, Premier League, Stadium of Light, 5.30pm, 5 October 2013
Sunderland (4-5-1): Westwood; Gardner, O’Shea, Cuellar, Colback; Ki Sung-Yeung, Larsson, Celustka, Cattermole, Johnson; Altidore. Subs from: Mannone, Celustka, Valentin, El-Hadji Ba, Mavrias, Wickham, Ji Dong-Won, Giaccherini
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Fellaini, Welbeck; Rooney; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Buttner, Evans, Jones, Valencia, Anderson, Young, Januzaj, Giggs, Kagawa, Hernández
Sunderland 39 Draw 36 United 60
Referee: Chris Foy
Assistants: A Garratt, S Burt
Fourth Official: P Dowd
0 – 3
More than 10 months on from the scene of Manchester United’s most traumatic title defeat in recent memory, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side returns to the Stadium of Light on Saturday lunchtime. United beat Sunderland last May. but few remember the game or result amid Manchester City’s celebrations that followed.
While the Blue quarter of Manchester commenced the party, a small corner of the north east joined in, Sunderland fans ‘doing the Poznan’ in a moment of joyous schadenfreude. It is an image imprinted in the collective consciousness of those who attended United’s 1-0 victory.
In the intervening months Ferguson’s side has taken title disappointment and channelled the pain into a what now looks to be a successful Premier League challenge. United’s 15-point lead could stretch further after the weekend’s games.
However, revenge, says the Scot, is not on the agenda; not with a title to claim and another game to check off the list. Just eight league games remain after United’s trip north.
Yet, few on the terraces this Saturday will forget the last visit here, even if United walk away from the Stadium of Light 18 points clear.
“You see a lot of that with supporters’ reaction to many things,” said Ferguson of Sunderland’s conflicted supporters.
“It was disappointing and it’s hard to take these things with the way it all panned out. I thought we’d won it for 20 seconds and it was snatched away from us.
“There’s not any bitterness from my point of view. 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 it as best we can.
“So I don’t have any issues with the Sunderland fans. I don’t think the Sunderland fans wanted City to win it any more than we did. It was just a fact that they were our opponents that day and it goes back to what I was saying about present society.”
Ferguson’s side travels north facing two games in 48 hours, with an FA Cup replay against Chelsea in London on Monday likely to play some part in the Scot’s weekend team selection. Indeed, with half-a-dozen players returning from draining double-header internationals last week, Ferguson is likely to use his full squad over the next two matches.
Fortunate, then, that not only did five key players miss out on international week altogether, but a further group of players are set to return from injury over the next two matches. Heading into the 45th fixture of another busy season – with no more than 12 matches to go – Ferguson is certain to spread the load liberally in the coming weeks.
“The players who will miss the international trips like Giggs, Anderson, Vidić, Büttner and Rafa will be key players on the run-in,” said Ferguson.
“I don’t think there are any injuries from the internationals which is really good news. There’s a fair bit of tiredness and the answer to that is to make sure we get the energies back in their bodies. So there’s the recovery side to it with not much training.
“There was a fair bit of travel – Chicharito and Valencia only got in yesterday afternoon and the English players got back at 5am. Other than that, we’re very satisfied.”
“Nani, Jones and Scholes are all doing a little bit of training, which is encouraging. Hopefully it will give us a good strong squad to approach the two games on Saturday and Monday. We’ll try and keep the momentum going with he run we’re in at the moment. If we do that, Monday will take care of itself.”
Indeed, the United manager is likely to go with the freshest possible options for Saturday’s fixture, with Anderson, Ryan Giggs and Alexander Büttner certain to start. In midfield Nani could return, although Paul Scholes may make only the bench.
It is in the forward areas that Ferguson has the toughest selection choices, with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernández and Shinji Kagawa each playing twice last week. The latter pair travelled to South American and Asia respectively.
Meanwhile, Sunderland arrive in desperate trouble at the foot of the Premier League. Martin O’Neil’s men have picked up just two points in the past six games, leaving the Mackems just four points of the relegation places. Worse, momentum appears to be with Sunderland’s rivals – Queens Park Rangers, Aston Villa, Wigan Athletic and even Reading have picked up more points over the same period.
It leaves the Irishman under severe pressure, fighting not only for Sunderland’s survival the season before the Premier League’s huge new television deal kicks in, but his own reputation. After successful spells in charge of Leicester City, Celtic and Villa, O’Neil now stands on the precipice of relegation.
With matches against Chelsea, Everton and Newcastle following United’s visit, O’Neil has very little time in which to turn Sunderland’s season around.
O’Neil’s man play out the season without key striker Steven Fletcher too, with the striker suffering ankle ligament damage on international duty with Scotland. Defender Carlos Cuellar is also injured, although Stephane Sessegnon could return to a squad desperately short on quality. Lee Cattermole and former Red Wes Brown also miss out.
“The old cliché about people stepping up to the plate has never been more relevant,” said O’Neill, who walked out on Villa in summer 2010 in a dispute over transfer funds.
“Remaining upbeat is actually in my nature. I can be down when we’ve lost matches but fighting back is part of me. Being down is not in my nature. Setbacks are part of the game. You have to expect these things. We have some great games ahead that we can look forward to rather than shy away from. They are tough but exciting to be involved in.”
Yet, Sunderland’s supporters appear to be losing faith; leading fanzine Roker Report recently describing a team “headed for the iceberg” and in O’Neill a manager that “is too proud to let go of the helm.”
Cliché, of course, but this is a ship sinking fast, with the rats abandoning astern. Few Old Trafford regulars will hold any sympathy of course. Not after that Pozan on that day.
“The fans have come in big numbers to support us,” claimed O’Neil.
“We have not given them a great deal to support all season. They are entitled to be frustrated. Personally speaking, I believe this is years of pent-up frustration that Sunderland have not won a trophy for 40 years.”
Not unless the Stadium of Light faithful are claiming that City victory last May, of course.
Sunderland v Manchester United – Premier League, Stadium of Light – 30 March 2013, 12.45pm
Sunderland (4-4-2): Mignolet; Bardlsey, O’Shea, Bramble, Rose; Johnson, N’Diaye, Colback, McClean; Sessegnon, Graham. Subs from: Westwood, Larsson, Kilgallon, Vaughan,Mangane, Gardner, Mandron, Noble, Wickham
United (4-4-2): de Gea; Rafael, Vidić, Evans, Büttner; Nani, Scholes, Anderson, Giggs; Welbeck, van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evra, Powell, Cleverley, Carrick, Young, Hernández, Valencia, Kagawa, Rooney.
Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistant Referees: J Flynn, D England
Fourth Official: L Mason
Head to Head
Last 10: Sunderland 0, United 8, Draw 2
Overall: Sunderland 39, United 59, Draw 36