Our EPL scribe takes a look at Monday's EPL clash between Manchester United and Sunderland.
It finally seems like some of the self-anointed Special One’s pressures are easing at Old Trafford, as three consecutive league victories have placed Manchester United within snapping distance of the coveted top four positions. A home tie against ex-manager David Moye’s relegation-mired Sunderland may seem like the ideal Boxing Day present for Mourinho and his exciting squad of international superstars. Sunderland will be bolstered by a heartening home victory against Watford last time out, and Moyes would love nothing more than to exorcise the ghosts of his ill-fated sojourn as Fergie’s successor.
Manchester United v Sunderland | Monday 26 December | Old Trafford | 17:00
To Win (90 Mins)
Manchester United 1/5 | Draw 5/1 | Sunderland 12/1
Mourinho’s men have yet to set the league on fire with their performances, but an increasingly stubborn defence coupled with slick attacking football and an in-form Zlatan Ibrahimovic have seen them steady a ship which was looking rather wobbly after their dismal display against Mourinho’s former club Chelsea. United fans have been pining to see the enigmatic Swede at his very best after a slightly indifferent start to his Old Trafford tenure which saw him missing as many chances as he was converting. But the mercurial, pony-tailed embodiment of Cantona-esque arrogance and skill is finally proving his mettle, and the team will undoubtedly try to provide him with every opportunity to add to his tally of eleven Premier League goals.
A settled back four including a rejuvenated Phil Jones and the sensational wingback play of Antonio Valencia has been crucial to United’s recent good form, and this upcoming game should prove no different. The only real headaches remain in the attacking department, where Mourinho has still yet to find the right blend on either side of Ibrahimovic. Rooney, Martial, Lingard and Mata are all possibilities in front of the settled central pair of Herrera and Pogba.
The key to victory may lie in which combination to play against a Sunderland team which will likely be playing with a siege mentality, and I expect Rooney and Lingard to support Ibrahimovic from the wide positions.
Even the most biased Sunderland fan won’t expect anything more than a defensive 5-4-1 at the Theatre of Dreams, with Moyes implementing a defend-at-all-costs approach against the flamboyant United team. This is not to disparage a Sunderland team which fought hard to defeat Watford last time out and gave Chelsea a few nervy moments in an ultimate 1-0 home loss. Moyes’s team is capable of good football (displayed in a recent home win against champions Leicester City), but with Adnan Januzaj ineligible to play against his former club, it’s likely that talismanic striker Jermain Defoe will cut a lonely figure on Boxing Day picking up whatever scraps he can.
Injury problems abound for Moyes, with Steven Pienaar doubtful after a knock and right-back Billy Jones still struggling with a hip problem. The attacking strengths of impressive left fullback Patrick Van Aanholt may cause problems for United on the counter attack, with Victor Anichebe and Fabio Borini perfectly capable of providing decent service to evergreen Defoe.
Verdict: HT/FT Double Manchester United To Win Both Halves At 6/10
I cannot see any other option than for United to win both halves, such is their attacking strength. With a relatively kind run of fixtures in the immediate future, United will look to cement their position as Champions League hopefuls. Unfortunately, I cannot see a happy return to Old Trafford for David Moyes.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets