What a welcome relief. The International break is well and truly over (at least for now). Focus shifts to club football once again. This is what the fans really care about, not some boring games all in the name of World Cup Qualifiers, although some games were hugely entertaining.
Manchester United resume domestic affairs in a bid to win its 20th English crown. Their next adventure is at the Stadium of Light where relegation threatened Sunderland await the challenge.
It has been a bit of a surprise that the black cats are flirting with relegation this season. They lie in 15th place on 31 points, level with Southampton who are 16th. Although they are only 3 points behind 11th placed Stoke City (34 pts). Mathematically, all ten teams are not safe from relegation. From Stoke who occupy the 11th spot to lowest ranked QPR.
The team is led by one of the most experienced managers in British football, Martin O’Neil, whose spells at Celtic, Leicester City and Aston Villa brought a lot of success. He was expected to replicate something similar at Wearside. It hasn’t been as anticipated.
Backed by multi-millionaire owner, Ellis Short, they have spent in excess of 30 million pounds this season bringing in the likes of Adam Johnson, Steven Fletcher and ex-Swan, Danny Graham. Results haven’t gone their way at all and their last outing in the Premier League ended in a 1-all draw v the yellow submarines of English football, Norwich. This is an even bigger test. The biggest of their season. Manchester United come to town.
Sir Alex Ferguson has still not forgotten his team’s ordeal in the hands of the Sunderland fans when the announcement came through that Kun Aguero had scored an injury time winner for the Citizens of Manchester to effectively end United’s hopes of claiming a 20th top flight domestic triumph.
They were vociferous in their scorn and ridicule of the Red Devils who until the 91st minute, were champions of England. The Scotsman and his talisman, Wayne Rooney have repeatedly stated this term that they will never forget that fateful day and the latter also added that he now checks when his team plays Sunderland as soon as the fixture list is released. It was and still is that hurtful.
The champions-elect come into this game 15 points ahead of closest challengers, City who have stuttered this season and failed to rise up to the occasion when it matters most. Fergie and his boys know that only a collapse even more tumultuous than the earthquake that struck Japan a few years ago, can stop the Premier League trophy from finding its way back to where it has stayed 12 times prior.
During the International Break, the likes of Rooney, RVP and Chicharito were on song for their respective national teams. On a personal and collective level for RvP’s Oranje, everything went as dreamed. 2 clean sheets and 7 goals scored with RVP contributing to 6 (3 goals, 3 assists) of the strikes. The Dutchman has now scored 34 goals for the Netherlands and is just 6 behind the Legendary Patrick Kluivert (40).
For England, it was a relatively satisfactory performance with 4 points gained from two matches played. Rooney struck and assisted against the World’s biggest minnows, San Marino and then added another sweet headed goal v Montenegro in Podgorica where he was famously red carded in a Euro 2012 Qualifier. With that goal, the Englishman joined Michael Owen as the two players who have scored the most goals in competitive games for the 3Lions-26.
Javier Hernandez a.k.a Lil Pea made his presence felt in Mexico’s game v Honduras. His two goals for the Tri were not enough to earn a victory as the opponents came back from 2 down to even the score. On a personal level though, his brace took him to an excellent 30 since his debut. SENSATIONAL!
Antonio Valencia and Ecuador scored great wins v El Salvador (friendly) and Paraguay (WCQ) and Tony V made a telling contribution in each of them. Ashley Young was also among the scorers in the San Marino game and is in fine form.
Sunderland are without Steven Fletcher and Captain Lee Cattermole who have both been ruled out until next season – a big blow to the Black Cats’ survival push. Fletcher was injured in the Scotland-Wales game and their worst fears have now been confirmed. Connor Wickham is expected to fill the void over the next two months or so.
The Black Cats have other options in midfield, but Lee’s driving force and leadership qualities will be sorely missed in the run-in.
Mignolet, Gardner, O’Shea, Cuellar, Rose, Larsson, Vaughan, Sessegnon, Johnson, McClean, Graham
Stephane Sessegnon has been very poor this season. The Benin International has been well below par for the Wearsiders and it has been evident in results and performances thus far. This is where great players are counted and a good showing v Manchester United will assuage fears of relegation.
Danny Graham must stand up to be counted as well. The striker has been here and there since his arrival and in the absence of Fletcher, he must carry the burden of scoring the needed goals.
DDG, Rafa, Rio, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Scholes, TonyV, Ashley Young, Rooney, RVP
Sir Alex Ferguson will definitely have one eye on Easter Monday’s FA Cup Quarter-Final replay at the Bridge when selecting his team for Saturday. The managerial great wants the domestic cup at all costs after missing out for the past nine years.
The evergreen Ryan Giggs will be needed to steer the Red Army ship past Chelsea on Monday and should be rested for the trip to the Stadium of Light. Paul ‘Ginger Maestro’ Scholes is back after a long layoff and should start the Sunderland game. Northern Irishman, Jonny Evans will start one of the two upcoming games.
The gaffer will choose the one best suited for him. Rooney and RVP will start as the team cannot afford any slip-ups and intend to be merciless.
The expected outcome should be a straightforward United victory, but who knows?
Written by Ohis Eboreime
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