Sunderland 0-1 Manchester United: Match Review
Manchester United went 18 points ahead of Manchester City as they picked up a regulation 1-0 victory over the Black Cats at the Stadium of Light, with almost perfect conditions to play football, to make it 7 straight Premier League victories. With revenge on their minds due to what had transpired last season, United got the job done, as they have done time and again this season.
The international break had indeed not affected Sir Alex Ferguson’s rotation policy, as United went into the game with Shinji Kagawa, who played 180 minutes in the week, Robin Van Persie who scored 3 goals in his two matches for the Dutch, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, and David de Gea, with the rest of the players either left out of the starting lineup or the match day squad itself, in light of the away FA Cup tie against Chelsea on Monday. Controversy-struck Rio Ferdinand was kept out of the squad, with Chris Smalling taking his place. With Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole injured for Sunderland, Martin O’Neill had no choice but to start Danny Graham, keeping Connor Wickham on the bench. Phil Bardsley and Stephane N’Diaye were the other notable changes made to the starting XI.
Manchester United made all the early running, despite Sunderland posing a few questions. However, what was more evident was the Sunderland defending, allowing the United attackers plenty of time and space to create chances. Ashley Young took full advantage of the stuttering opposition defence, creating the bulk of the chances in the opening quarter of the first half. Captain Nemanja Vidic experienced a slight problem with his hip and moved very delicately throughout the match, but it was Rafael who was withdrawn due a groin problem and replaced by Jonny Evans. Despite being a bit rusty, United were indeed able to settle down and exhibit some of the pace and skill they have been showing consistently this season.
A moment of brilliance from Robin Van Persie and deflections off Titus Bramble and Phil Bardsley ensured that Simon Mignolet had no chance off keeping the ball out. The next 20 minutes of the half would be the easiest for the Red Devils this season, as Sunderland began to show their frustration by committing many a foul, and could not find inspiration from anywhere with captain John O’Shea being the recipient of a yellow card courtesy of a spat with referee with Kevin Friend, and Martin O’Neill livid on the sidelines.
Sunderland came out in the second half rejuvenated, with their midfield of N’Diaye, Sessegnon and Craig Gardner trying to get something going for the home team. In a first half equivalent to a Sunday afternoon of golf, David de Gea finally had something to worry about in the second half. James McClean and Adam Johnson recaptured their form from the previous season, finally bringing some joy to the manager. Despite the fact that United had taken their foot of the gas and with 45,000 odd fans in the stadium behind their back, Sunderland were not able to change much in terms of the score. Sir Alex Ferguson had a momentary worrying moment, when David de Gea collided with Nemanja Vidic, with no serious damage, and will indeed be fit for the Chelsea fixture on Monday.
It would indeed be fair to say that Sunderland were able to change the game in terms of spirit, and spirit does fetch 3 points all the time, with United being the ideal example. The home loss puts Sunderland in immense trouble as they will be facing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge the following week, and Newcastle away the week after. It will be up to O’Neill to try and change the attitude of his team, as he tries to help them beat the drop and keep his job.
As for Manchester United, if they put up the same dominating performance they put up in the first half, there should be no stopping them from winning the FA Cup tie on Monday. As for the Premier League, it will be interesting to see if United can do the double over their cross city rivals, with the Manchester Derby next week. Despite being a hectic week, Ferguson will look to rouse his side and beat the odds, as he has been doing for 25 years.