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The Academy: United v Sunderland – Preview

The last few weeks and months of the Academy have highlighted its purpose for me; experiment and develop in the league fixtures but put the boys to the test in the cup.

Today United welcome Group D counterparts Sunderland from the North East as they look for their first win of 2012, in fact, you need to go as far back as November 5th 2011 to find United’s last league victory. That day saw Joe Rothwell stretchered off after suffering a hip and knee injury combination that’s left him sidelined for 4 months, his return is imminent but unlikely to be today. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Joe’s absence has coincided with United’s current inability to win games, but his return will definitely be welcomed and provide a boost to an area of the field where United certainly struggle to dominate.

During this winless run of games, United finally kept their second cleansheet of the season (in the league) in a 0-0 draw at WBA, before that; it was a trip to Sheffield United way back in September that saw them keep one. A lack of cleansheet’s has been the biggest cause for concern all season in my opinion. Going forward the group is wonderfully talented and improving week-on-week, but the fact that they haven’t kept a cleansheet at Carrington all season is proof of the struggles this team is having to reshape out of possession and concentrate during periods of pressure despite improving as the season has progressed.

I’ve regularly highlighted the times United have conceded from the first attack of the game in so many fixtures at Carrington this season, hopefully today will see the boys concentrating right from the off and give themselves a decent platform off which to play their football and express themselves.

Looking at Sunderland’s results it’s fair to assume that their league season is following a similar pattern to that of United’s with 25pts from 21 games (United are 19 from 19), a negative goal (-5) difference (United are -8) and only four cleansheets. Their recent form is somewhat erratic with two 3-0 victories since the turn of the year surrounded by similar scorelines in defeat.

Sunderland players to look out for are Adam Laidler, Nathan Thomas and Adam Mitchell. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is also well thought of and highly rated by Sunderland coach Kevin Ball.

As for United I expect a stronger team than the one that faced Barnsley but I also expect it to have a couple of surprises in it with United’s semi final first leg looming next Friday night.

I can see Ioannou getting a rest and Dalley coming in with McCullough given more game time to improve his match fitness. With Tyler Blacketts recent run of games in the centre I think it’s likely he’ll be started at leftback in preparation for Friday with Grimshaw given the chance to continue at rightback.

In midfield I think we might see a bolstering with the possible absence of GvV. I think Ekangamene could go in there with Rudge and Hendrie while Daehli again gets the freedom to pull the strings from anywhere on the pitch while Gorre operates on the left. I don’t expect to see Adnan although there’s a chance he could make the bench.

Up front I think Barmby will be rested, with his glut of goals and his habit of scoring in every youth cup game so far this season I think the risk of losing him for Friday will be too great for McGuinness to consider playing him today for anything other than 20 minutes. That leaves the hard working Sam Byrne alone up front to hopefully continue his impressive recent form while his equally impressive fellow striker James Wilson on the bench.

As usual it’s all just guess work but the predictions haven’t been too far wrong all season.

Line-Up: Sutherland, Blackett, Dalley, McCullough, Grimshaw, Rudge, Ekangamene, Hendrie, Daehli, Gorre, Byrne
Bench: Jacob, Wiulson, Wilkinson, Rowley, Adnan?, Barmby

Match kicks off at 12pm and it’s live on MUTV, regular updates from Carrington via @Rimmerstweets.