Sunderland vs. Manchester United
Sunday, April 9, 2017
Stadium of Light
Man United shared the points in a Premier League game at Old Trafford for the ninth time this season on Tuesday night, with Everton the latest team to prevent the 20-time English champions from emerging victorious on home soil.
Incredibly, Jose Mourinho’s side have now won just six of their 16 league fixtures at Old Trafford this season, which is just the 10th-best home record in the division. They have only suffered one defeat on their own patch – against Manchester City back in September – but too many draws have really cost the 20-time English champions in their pursuit of a top-four finish.
Indeed, Man United returned to sixth position in mid-week after Arsenal picked up a much-needed 3-0 win over West Ham United on Wednesday night. As it stands, Mourinho’s side are four points off fourth-place Man City, and still have a game in hand over their city rivals, which suggests that all is not lost.
There are actually also only six points between sixth-place Man United and third-place Liverpool, who have played two games more than the Red Devils. Despite back-to-back draws against West Brom and Everton in the Premier League, a top-four finish is still very much open in the final weeks of the season.
Fourteen wins, 12 draws and three defeats is how Man United’s Premier League record reads this season. No team has lost fewer matches than the Red Devils this term, but no team has drawn more. It is now 20 games since Man United last lost a league match, although that run came mightily close to ending on Tuesday night at home to Everton.
A bizarre Phil Jagielka effort saw Everton take the lead at Old Trafford, and the Toffees were heading above Man United in the table as they closed on an impressive away win. Ashley Williams was sent off for handling inside the Man United box in second-half stoppage time, however, which allowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to step forward and score his 16th league goal of the campaign from the penalty spot.
Avoiding defeat in those circumstances was a big positive for Man United, but it was yet another home draw. Old Trafford has not been a happy home this season, but the Red Devils have been strong on their travels – winning eight of their 13 matches, suffering just two defeats in the process.
In fact, only Chelsea and Man City have a better away record than Man United at this stage of the season, while Mourinho’s side are on their longest unbeaten run away from home – eight games – since August 2013.
In terms of what is ahead for Man United, they will travel to Anderlecht on April 13 for the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final, before the small matter of a home league game against the leaders Chelsea on April 16. Their attention will then switch back to European football as they welcome Anderlecht to Old Trafford for the second leg of their last-eight fixture on April 20.
They will then play three Premier League matches in the space of seven days – visiting Burnley and Man City on April 23 and April 27 respectively, before ending the month at home to Swansea City on April 30. If Mourinho’s side have serious ambitions of a top-four finish, they will need to put some wins on the board before the month of May rolls around.
Man United have the joint-second best defensive record in the league this season alongside Chelsea – conceding just 24 goals – but they have only scored 43 goals in their 29 fixtures. To put that number into context, Liverpool have 66 goals this season, Chelsea 62, while even Bournemouth (44) down in 13th position have scored more Premier League goals than Mourinho’s side during the 2016-17 campaign.
Worryingly for Man United, they have not actually won any of their last three games away to Sunderland in all competitions. The Black Cats recorded a 2-1 victory in the corresponding match last term, although Man United were 3-1 winners when the pair met at Old Trafford on December 26 of this season.
When Sunderland recorded a 4-0 victory at Crystal Palace at the start of February, the supporters started to believe that there could be another great escape. It has all gone downhill since then, however, with the Black Cats losing five of their last six in the league and failing to score a single goal in the process.
Sunderland are also winless in their last six Premier League games on home soil, failing to score in each of the last four. Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat at Leicester City has left David Moyes’ side rooted to the bottom of the table on 20 points – 10 points behind 17th-place Hull City, who have just nudged out of the bottom three.
Sunderland have won more Premier League games this season (5) than Middlesbrough (4), but the Black Cats have lost 20 of their 30 fixtures, managing just 24 goals in the process, and 14 of those have come from Jermain Defoe.
Defoe will have a point to prove this weekend having failed to score in his last six Premier League games against Man United since netting for Tottenham Hotspur in March 2012. It is going to take a minor miracle to prevent Sunderland from dropping into the Championship, but a win against Man United and another escape might well be on the cards.
It has been suggested that Mourinho will put all of his eggs in the Europa League basket in a bid to secure Champions League qualification for the 2017-18 campaign, but a top-four finish in the Premier League is still very much open.
There is no question that it is a daunting fixture list for Man United over the last few weeks, but victory over Sunderland this weekend and a positive result against Chelsea on April 16 could yet see the club move into the top four. More draws, however, and they will surely be left behind.
Mourinho is expected to recall Antonio Valencia after the right-back was rested against Everton on Tuesday night, but there is a spot open at left-back after Ashley Young was ruled out of this weekend’s fixture through injury.
Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are also both expected to return to the starting XI, with the places of Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick seemingly those under the biggest threat.
Marcus Rashford should get the nod in a wide position once again, while Mourinho will decide between Jesse Lingard – who signed a new deal this week – and Anthony Martial on the opposite side of leading scorer Ibrahimovic.
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones remain on the sidelines with ‘long-term’ injuries, however, while Juan Mata is expected to miss the remainder of the season after being forced to undergo groin surgery.
Luke Shaw should again be part of the squad following ‘clear-the-air’ talks with Mourinho, although it seems unlikely that the England international will be handed a spot in the first XI at the Stadium of Light.
As for Sunderland, former Man United defender Paddy McNair remains on the sidelines with a serious knee injury, while Duncan Watmore, Jan Kirchoff and Steven Pienaar are all still unavailable for Moyes.
Victor Anichebe is pushing for a return to the starting XI after featuring against Leicester, although the Nigerian is expected to start on the bench once again as Defoe leads the line.
Sunderland: Pickford; Jones, Kone, Denayer, Oviedo; Ndong, Rodwell, Larsson; Borini, Defoe, Khazri
Man United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Rojo, Darmian; Herrera, Pogba; Martial, Mkhitaryan, Rashford; Ibrahimovic