Fresh from a much needed victory over Reading in midweek, Sunderland now look forward to a nice, easy trip to Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon. The Wearsiders haven't won there since May 1968 and, after Sir Alex Ferguson's men's crucial victory over Manchester City last weekend, few would expect a positive result for the visitors tomorrow.
Manchester United Team News
As if last year's league runners-up were not formidable enough, tomorrow will see them welcome the return of influential centre-back Nemanja Vidic, following a three-month layoff. Anders Lindegaard is once more available for selection after the birth of his first child saw him miss out on last weekend's local derby. Meanwhile, Jonny Evans is expected to miss out with a hamstring problem. Nani, Anderson and Shinji Kagawa all remain on the sidelines.
Sunderland Team News
Tuesday evening's victory over Reading came at a cost. Phil Bardsley possibly faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines with suspected knee ligament damager, while Adam Johnson and Danny Rose are both doubts with leg and ankle complaints respectively. Steven Fletcher, though still nursing an ankle knock, is expected to be deemed fit to play. Lee Cattermole and Wes Brown are long-term absentees.
Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, Young; Rooney, Van Persie
Sunderland: Mignolet; Cuellar, Bramble, O'Shea, Rose; Larsson, Gardner, Colback, McClean; Sessegnon; Fletcher
Key Matchup: Craig Gardner Vs Michael Carrick
Without Lee Cattermole, Sunderland's midfield still looks woefully below par - especially against the opposition it will face on Saturday. Yet, out of such strife comes opportunity. Craig Gardner has looked better in midfield in recent weeks, offering more of an attacking threat.
Saturday will present him with the opportunity to match that with good defensive work. One potential ploy could be for Gardner to act as the more advanced central midfielder and seek to nullify the work of Michael Carrick. Carrick is often United's most heavily involved player - ie. he touches the ball more often than any of his teammates - and is very much the motor that keeps the side ticking. Though Tom Cleverley is entrusted with more advanced playmaking from the centre, it is Carrick who spreads the play and contributes to the opposing team becoming tired. If Gardner can pressure him accordingly, Sunderland may not be overran in midfield in the way that many are expecting.
Recent Form (League): LWWWW
Norwich City 1-0 Manchester United (Pilkington 60)
Manchester United 3-1 Queen's Park Rangers (Scholes 55, Evans 64, Fletcher 68; Mackie 52)
Manchester United 1-0 West Ham United (Van Persie 1)
Reading 3-4 Manchester United (Robson-Kanu 8, Le Fondre 19, Morrison 23; Anderson 13, Rooney (pen) 16, 30, Van Persie 34)
Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United (Toure 60, Zabaleta 86; Rooney 16, 29, Van Persie 90+2)
Last Time Around: Manchester United 1-0 Sunderland, 05/11/11
Sunderland are without a victory against United at Old Trafford in their last twenty-five visits, and their most recent outing there was settled by a Wes Brown own goal in first half stoppage time.
In a dour game, the show was stolen by home boss Sir Alex Ferguson - the Red Devils announced that their ground's North Stand had been renamed in honour of their long-term manager, before Ferguson entered under a guard of honour before kick-off. An early injury to Connor Wickham disrupted Sunderland's plans, and very little happened until Brown accidentally deflected Danny Welbeck's header into his own net.
The Ref: Chris Foy
The 50-year-old from St. Helens will mark an anniversary on Saturday, taking charge of this contest exactly eleven years to the day since his first Premier League match - a 0-0 draw between Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic.
Despite being born just over half an hours drive away from Old Trafford, Foy hasn't brought United any luck so far this season - he was the man in charge of the Reds' only home league defeat this season, 2-3 loss to Tottenham Hotspur. By contrast, his only match officiating Sunderland this season was a positive one for the Black Cats, as he oversaw their 0-0 draw at Arsenal on the opening day.
Foy has taken charge of this fixture previously, most recently in October 2010, when neither side could break the deadlock in a 0-0 draw at the Stadium of Light.
What The Managers Said:
Sir Alex Ferguson:
[Sunderland fans celebrating Manchester United losing the league title] was disappointing given the number of players we have given them down the years.
But there was no malice in it and there is no element of revenge.
Winning the game on Saturday is more important for us given what we achieved last week [against Manchester City].
Now we really need to kick on and make sure we retain our lead at the top of the league.
Winning matches is very important [and] it's given everyone that confidence boost and hopefully we will be able to continue that between now and the Christmas period and into the New Year.
We have a real battle on, of course, against Manchester United but we can go there with some confidence because of the result during the week and actually go and play with some freedom as well.
Someone was suggesting a few days ago that these are not our battles - but that's not the point.
We have to go and compete every single week in this league and I don't think you can start to allocate points here and take points away there. Go and play.
Roker Report Predicts
After Tuesday's well deserved victory, Sunderland can at least approach this game with some semblance of confidence. As history shows, this fixture has never been a favoured one for the Wearsiders. Yet, with United's defence having been leaky all season, Martin O'Neill's men may still share hopes of springing a surprise.
Still, the likelihood is that they won't. United have shown great resolve this season; they are not six points clear for nothing. Sunderland won't be decimated, but a narrow defeat is probably the most likely outcome for tomorrow's fixture.