If Manchester United are to retain the Premier League title, they must either better Manchester City’s result against QPR, or score at least eight goals more than the Citizens in victory. Given Sunderland’s impressive defensive record, the latter looks extremely unlikely, so Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping for a favour from Mark Hughes’ men.
Chris Smalling has been ruled out with a groin problem, but Rio Ferdinand is expected to make the cut. Michael Owen could take up a position on the substitutes’ bench, with Danny Welbeck is a major doubt to play against the club with whom he spent last season.
Sunderland’s Kieran Richardson and Wes Brown are not fit to face their former club, while Sebastian Larsson recently underwent surgery on a hernia. That operation could have been delayed until after the end of the campaign: a further indication, if any were needed, that the Black Cats are already looking beyond this season.
United’s win over Swansea last weekend was only their second in five matches, a run that has seen them slip from near certainties to win the Premier League to rank outsiders. They’ve also been exceptionally poor on the road of late, with the only two victories in their last five away from Old Trafford coming against relegated Wolves and Blackburn.
Sunderland’s form doesn’t make for better reading: the Black Cats are winless in their seven games since being knocked out of the FA Cup by Everton. They are, however, unbeaten in the league at home since Thierry Henry’s injury-time strike gave Arsenal the three points in mid-February, and have only lost two Premier League games on Wearside this calendar year.
The necessity of victory makes United the lazy tip at odds of 1.45. Sunderland have already shown, by beating City at the Stadium of Light, that they are capable of upsetting the applecart. Sunderland are priced at 7.00 and the draw 4.40.
As mentioned above, Sunderland have one of the best home defences in the league. Only Everton and Manchester City have conceded fewer on their home patch this season, and they’ve shipped just seven goals in 11 home league matches since Martin O’Neill’s arrival at the club.
The Black Cats have, however, failed to score in eight of their last 10 Premier League games against United and have scored only three in their last seven league games against all opposition.
Fergie’s men have failed to score in their last two away matches, at Man City and Wigan, while it took until the 82nd minute to breach Blackburn’s defence in their previous game. All indicators point towards a low scoring game, making the 2.20 on Under 2.5 goals particularly appealing.
After a great run of goalscoring that took his tally for the season to 36, Wayne Rooney has looked decidedly below par in his last couple of appearances. He hasn’t scored against Sunderland in six matches since 2007 and looks ripe for the picking at odds of 1.95 not to get his name on the score sheet.
Three of the last five Man Utd goals against Sunderland have come courtesy of own goals and you can get odds of 8.00 that another Black Cats player puts into his own net this weekend.
PREDICTION: Sunderland 0-1 Man Utd
Best Bet: Under 2.5 goals @ 2.20