Manchester United’s 3-2 victory over champions City last weekend has given them the luxury of a six-point lead at the top of the Premiership and they will be looking to build on that when they welcome struggling Sunderland on Saturday.
A long overdue victory for the Black Cats over Reading in midweek has eased some of the pressure on manager Martin O’Neill but his position will come under further scrutiny if they are well beaten at Old Trafford.
O’Neill has injury concerns over winger Adam Johnson (dead leg) and defender Danny Rose (ankle) following their 3-0 victory on Tuesday. He will also be without defender Phil Bardsley and skipper Lee Cattermole who are both sidelined with knee ligament damage.
Striker Steven Fletcher is hoping to be able to shake off a niggling ankle injury and be fit to play on Saturday. Sunderland will need to raise their game if they are to be competitive against a buoyant United side.
Although United may have put one over their Manchester rivals last weekend, they will know that there is a long way to go and their early season form has not been entirely convincing. They have suffered three defeats, something that is masked by the fact that they have won all of their remaining fixtures without a single draw.
Defeat last weekend was the first of the season for City but they have drawn six matches. The bookmakers only see one outcome tomorrow with United 1-5 favourites and Sunderland as high as 16-1 to grab a shock victory.
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has seen rival managers come and go and his craggy features are testimony to the stresses and strains of Premier League management. But even he admits to being surprised by those questioning the self-belief of Martin O’Neill.
Sunderland were recording only their third victory of the season when they defeated Reading and they have not won at Old Trafford since 1968. Even so, Ferguson claims it is insulting to question the manager’s self-belief. He points to his record of three Scottish titles and a UEFA Cup final with Celtic as well as his successful spells at Aston Villa and Leicester City.
Despite the fact that the two teams are at opposite ends of the table, there may be an old score to settle as far as United are concerned. At the end of the final match of last season where United played at Sunderland, the home fans celebrated wildly when news of Manchester City’s title-winning goal came through. This reaction clearly hurt and even striker Wayne Rooney has admitted that he is looking forward to renewing rivalry with Sunderland this season.
The United boss is well known for keeping his cards close to his chest and his players are no different, if judged by the recent Manchester United charity poker event. Ferguson said: “Revenge won’t come into anything tomorrow. Winning the game is more important to us because after the impetus we got from last week, it’s time for us to really kick on.”