It may have been nearly two weeks in coming but Manchester United finally get their Premier league campaign back underway against Sunderland after last weekend’s postponement.
The rest may have done United’s stars some good with a very busy schedule in the offing, but first Steve Bruce’s men have to be dispatched at Old Trafford and given their away record this year – only one win – it might proved to be a relatively easy task. However, the victory did come against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Sir Alex Ferguson does have a relatively fit squad to choose from. The usual back five of Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Rafael are all expected to start the match.
In midfield a four man unit will likely be deployed with Nani, Anderson, Michael Carrick and JI-Sung Park in the line up as it will be the South Korean’s last game before jetting off for the Asian Cup he will be looking to leave with a win.
Paul Scholes is still nursing a groin injury and with John O’Shea also out, United have only long-term absentees Owen Hargreaves and Antonio Valencia sidelined.
With the busy Christmas period getting underway Michael Owen could get a chance in the first team as he has recovered from a hamstring injury that has kept him out since the fixture against Sunderland in October.
But with Dimitar Berbatov being left out in the last league match against Arsenal he would expect to receive a starting slot alongside Wayne Rooney.
Despite not winning against Sir Alex in all of his 15 attempts so far, Bruce will once more give his all against his former boss, “I have tried hard [to win at United] and not had one yet, and we will keep trying,” Bruce said.
“To be fair, there are a few managers out there who have probably witnessed it – certainly nobody has beaten them this year, have they?
“We know what to expect, it will be difficult. But I always enjoy going back, even if I do come back with my backside kicked.
“For me, a lot of teams are beaten in the tunnel. You must, must go and take part in the game; you must go and have the courage to take the ball and take them on, and if you do that, then you have got a chance,” he continued.
“Even then, you have still got to play to your maximum. Let’s be fair, they don’t lose many at home.
“But it’s a great place to go and play. If you have anything about you at all, these are the games that you should enjoy playing in.
“Seventy-odd thousand at Old Trafford – fantastic, that’s what you play football for and that’s where you can go and show your skills.
“Last year, we played very well. To be fair, we have played very well at home against them twice as well, so let’s hope we can maintain it.”
There are a number of injury issues for the Wearsiders; John Mensah will be joining Titus Bramble and Michael Turner on the sidelines. Thus meaning Anton Ferdinand will likely partner Nedum Onuoha at the back.
With Lee Cattermole suspended Bruce will have to decide whether of not to play veteran Bolo Zenden in centre midfield.
One player who will not play will be Danny Welbeck. Arguably the Black Cats’ most impressive player in recent weeks, he is ineligible to play against his parent club. So that will likely mean a partnership of Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan for Sunderland.
The away side however have not won at Old Trafford since a 2-1 victory in May 1968. One obstacle that may be worrying Steve Bruce’s men is the late goal, as it is becoming a more common site in matches between the two sides.
Last season, Anton Ferdinand’s 94th-minute own goal earned United a 2-2 draw while in December 2008, Nemanja Vidic also struck in injury time to give the Red Devils a 1-0 win.
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