As we celebrate and commemorate Sir Alex Ferguson’s 25 years at Manchester United, perhaps it’s only fitting that this weekend’s opposing manager is someone who played a key role in the early successes that kick-started United’s return to the top and Sir Alex’s path to being Sir Alex.
Steve Bruce will always have a place in United history for all that he did in his time at the club, including those two goals against Sheffield Wednesday in April 1993 that were key in breaking United’s long title drought. More recently though, he’s notable for his lack of success against United as a manager.
There might not be a better time for Brucey and Sunderland to come to town, and not just because of the occasion. United haven’t had the easiest time of it lately, despite winning three in a row in all competitions, and with the international break coming up, a comfortable win would ensure that confidence and momentum are both on the up and up when action resumes in two weeks’ time.
Last season, United picked up four of six points against Sunderland, drawing 0-0 at the Stadium of Light in October and picking up a 2-0 win at Old Trafford on Boxing Day.
For all of their issues with being unable to beat United, the only real battering they’ve received from United since returning to the Premier League in the 2007/08 season is United’s 4-0 away win on Boxing Day in 2007. In that time span, United are 6-2-0 against Sunderland, but four of those wins have been by one goal.
After bringing in a great deal of new faces this summer, I expected Sunderland to make a move up the Premier League table this season. Then again, I expected that to happen last season as well, and true enough, a European spot looked within reach for a while, but a nine-match winless run that started at the beginning of February and didn’t end until late April completely crushed those chances.
Perhaps they’re doing it in reverse this season, as they’ve gotten off to a slow start. They’ve won only two of their first 10 matches, drawing four and losing four, and they sit 14th in the table. However, they’re only a couple of points outside of the top half of the table, and eighth-placed Norwich City is only three points away, and with four straight winnable matches after the international break (v. Fulham, v. Wigan, at Wolves, v. Blackburn), the chance is there to really move up before the end of the year.
It would help their cause to get consistent production from their forward line, which hasn’t done much to date. In fact, their leading scorer is midfielder Seb Larsson, who has three goals this season.
However, loanee Nicklas Bendtner has picked it up recently, with two goals in his last three matches, and Brucey has given teenage hotshot Connor Wickham his chance to shine in the last couple of matches after easing him over the first couple of months. The 18-year-old has started Sunderland’s last couple of Premier League matches, and he netted their first goal, and his first Premier League goal, in their 2-2 draw against Aston Villa last Saturday.
Of course, many will be watching the contingent of former United players who now form part of Sunderland’s core. Kieran Richardson has been a regular for Sunderland over the last few seasons, and he’s now been joined by Wes Brown and John O’Shea, who left Old Trafford this past summer and have quickly settled in. However, O’Shea will miss out on the reunion today, as a hamstring problem sees him sidelined.
However, if there’s someone who really merits watching today, it’s Stephane Sessegnon. The former PSG man has had a direct involvement in all four of the goals Sunderland have scored in their last two matches, scoring two and assisting on two, and he nabbed an 89th-minute equalizer against Villa to save Sunderland from what would’ve been their third home defeat in five matches this season.
Of all the selection questions that there could be for today, the one that’s at the front of my mind is whether or not we’ll see Wayne Rooney in the midfield once again after the quality performance he put in there in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Otelul Galati.
With Tom Cleverley still out and far more quality options up front than in midfield, it’s possible bordering on probable. However, I think it’s a wrinkle that we should only see once in a while. Sure, he’s United’s best all-around talent, and his versatility, selflessness, and energy are all assets that make such a move worthwhile, but he’s also United’s most consistent scorer and attacking threat, and you don’t want to limit that.
Anything is possible though, given the aforementioned proliferation of forward options, even with Michael Owen unfortunately injured once again. The emergence of Danny Welbeck, thanks in no small part to his loan stint at Sunderland last season, has opened up a lot of selection options.
If you look around, United aren‘t starved for options in most areas. Coming into the season, there were doubts about whether or not we’d be able to say about the goalkeeping situation, but that’s certainly been resolved now. The only area that still really sticks out? The center of midfield, which is why we’re discussing this in the first place. And so it goes…
United have, as was to be expected, bounced back from that defeat with the right results, but as needy fans, we want to be entertained from time to time.
Well, if there’s a day to do that, it’s today. The occasion certainly calls for it, right?
Score Prediction: Manchester United 3-1 Sunderland
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