Sunderland and Manchester United will both be desperate for the points for very different reasons when they meet at the Stadium of Light this weekend (1.30pm Sunday on Sky Sports 1).
Jose Mourinho’s men’s bid for a top-four spot took another hit in their last encounter, when Everton held the hosts to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. It was the ninth time they have been limited to a single point in front of their own supporters, which is ultimately the main factor behind their current absence from the Champions League places.
The Red Devils fell behind in the 22nd minute when Phil Jagielka flicked a loose ball home from a corner, and had to wait until second-half stoppage time before levelling the scores through a Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty. They were again rather flat and ponderous in possession, which has been a frequent criticism of the team at Old Trafford this term, and could easily have fallen further behind if Everton had been more clinical and efficient on the counter-attack. The gap separating United from fourth place now stands at four points; it is far from an insurmountable deficit for Mourinho’s charges to make up, but they are now clearly outsiders for a top-four finish.
Things are looking even worse for Sunderland, who fell to a fifth loss in their last six games against champions Leicester City on Tuesday night. The Black Cats have made a habit of launching last-gasp escape acts to avoid the drop in recent seasons, but that will surely prove impossible this time around.
The Premier League’s last-placed club are currently 10 points adrift of safety with just a handful of games remaining, and should probably start preparing for life in the Championship. The most damning statistic of all concerns their recent goal-scoring record, with David Moyes’ side having remarkably failed to score in nine of their last 10 outings in all competitions. The only exception was a freak 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park two months ago.
Man Utd will be missing Juan Mata (groin), captain Wayne Rooney (ankle), Chris Smalling (knee) and Phil Jones (toe) for their trip to the northeast, with Ashley Young also likely to sit this one out after picking up a knock on Wednesday. Antonio Valencia was rested in the draw with Everton but should return here, while Paul Pogba will probably also make his way back into the starting XI after appearing in that game as a substitute. Henrikh Mkhitaryan could also come into the team, and Anthony Martial is another player who is pushing for a recall.
Sunderland will be without Jan Kirchhoff (knee), Steven Pienaar (calf), Duncan Watmore (knee) and Paddy McNair (knee), but Lee Cattermole returned against Leicester and will probably anchor the midfield again here. Jermain Defoe has failed to find the net in his last six appearances for the Black Cats and will be desperate to get his name on the scoresheet against United, although much will depend on the quality of service that comes his way from the likes of Adnan Januzaj and Fabio Borini. At the back, Jason Denayer, John O’Shea, Papy Djilobodji, Lamine Kone and Joleon Lescott are competing for the two available centre-half spots.
So this preview comes to its betting tips’ selections and given that United’s backline has been breached on only 24 occasions this season and Sunderland have been extremely poor in front of goal, a clean sheet for the away team looks likely on Sunday afternoon.
Mourinho’s men have enough attacking firepower to put the ball in the net at the other end of the pitch, so backing an away triumph to nil could be the way to go in this one. In the anytime goalscorer market Martial looks like a good-value option. In summary, we suggest: Man Utd to beat Sunderland to nil at best betting odds of 23/20 with BoyleSports; Anthony Martial to score any time at 9/4 with Betfred.