Manchester United take on Sunderland at Old Trafford after a week where speculation off-the-pitch has somewhat overshadowed the forthcoming match.
Ryan Giggs staked a claim to be considered for the manager’s job, or at least a prominent role in the new setup, with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Norwich while the speculation surrounding Louis van Gaal’s apparently impending arrival has gone into overdrive.
That has led to a somewhat low key build-up to a game which United have relatively little to play for in aside from pride after a horrendous season, while Saturday’s opponents Sunderland are fighting for their Premier League lives and will be raring to go after some big results of late.
The Black Cats have been threatened by relegation all season and looked almost dead and buried following a 4-1 defeat at Spurs last month. However, a remarkable turnaround, including a draw at Manchester City and a shock victory at Chelsea has put the Wearside outfit right back in the mix and in with a shout of surviving another season in the Premier League.
Sunderland go into the game in high spirits with little to lose but United played with a spirit of old in a dominant second half performance against Norwich, so United are on the crest of a wave too.
The first half was somewhat reminiscent of the Moyes era but the signs were there. The second half saw a return to the free-flowing of old and United will look to pick up exactly where they left off last weekend with Giggs seeking to strengthen his claim for the top job.
Wayne Rooney is a doubt with flu and a groin strain as is Anders Lindegaard. Robin van Persie might return to the bench after training all week while Juan Mata is likely to be recalled to the starting eleven after a fine two goal salvo from the bench. Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck should retain their spots in the XI.
For Sunderland Ki-Sung Yeung continues to be absent with tendonitis meaning that Gus Poyet could name an unchanged side from the one which beat Cardiff last time out, although Emanuelle Giacherrini could push for a recall after an impressive cameo. Connor Wickham will be a man full of confidence after winning the Player of the Month award following a run of five goals in four games.
The two sides have already met three times this season; once in the league where United recorded a 2-1 victory thanks to an Adnan Januzaj brace and the Capital One Cup semi-finals where Sunderland earned a spot in the final via penalties.
United boast a fantastic record against Sunderland and are unbeaten in 23 league games against the Black Cats with 12 league games at Old Trafford (10 wins, 2 draws). Giggs’ men will be expected to carry on that record despite Poyet’s side being likely to put in a spirited showing.
Perhaps ominously, Sunderland have scored in each of their last ten away games but prior to winning their last two games, they failed to win nine in a row.
The Reds should have enough to beat the Black Cats despite them possessing some quality in key areas. Danny Welbeck has the pace and quality to cause problems against his former loan side, with former United favourite John O’Shea likely to skipper the side.
Prediction: Manchester United 3-1 Sunderland