Manchester United will attempt to keep the pressure on at the top of the Premier League when hosting bottom-of-the-table Sunderland at Old Trafford on Saturday. Despite a largely underwhelming start to the season, back-to-back Premier League wins have propelled Louis van Gaal’s side into second place and just two points behind local rivals Manchester City.
And much of that is due to the instant impact made by Anthony Martial. Plenty of skepticism surrounded United’s decision to make the French 19-year-old the most expensive teenager in history when procuring him from Monaco right at the very end of the transfer window. But, so far, he has displayed ample potential to pay back that investment, and then some.
Announcing his arrival with a thrilling goal against Liverpool, the forward followed it up with two equally assured finishes against Southampton in a nervy 3-2 win. For good measure, he then made the most of a 20-minute substitute appearance to grab another goal late on and put the seal on a 3-0 victory over Ipswich Town in the third round of the Capital One Cup in midweek. Another goal on Saturday and the France international will become the first player in 43 years to score in his first three league appearances for Manchester United.
“It's a bit of luck but the main thing is his quality,” Van Gaal said, according to the Manchester Evening News. “It's also because of his fellow players, he has to cope with the pressure and what we have seen until now - he can do it.
“He doesn't read the papers, maybe he hears it from his fellow players but it is possible [to break the record]. He's an open guy, he's listening and focusing on the matches, he is a very coachable player and that's also why I like him and I bought him.”
Martial will have every reason to believe he can extend his scoring streak on Saturday. Yet to win in the Premier League through six matches this season, Sunderland have conceded a division-high 13 goals. There was no respite in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday, when the north-east side went down 4-1 at home to Manchester City.
For Sunderland, it has been a desperately frustrating continuation of a pattern of poor starts to campaigns. In fact, this is now the third consecutive season in which Sunderland have failed to win any of their first six league fixtures. Manager Dick Advocaat, who was persuaded to stay on after leading the club to safety last season, has put those struggles down to a failure to get new signings in quickly enough.
“I still think that if you bring in new players, and we got them in rather late, it needs time to get used to the Premier League, get used to the players, players who aren’t normally regulars are going out some players are coming in,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “Is 4-3-3 the right system? That’s what we have to find out rather soon because, I’d like to have the points as well.”
Sunderland should be boosted at Old Trafford by the return from a hamstring injury of striker Jermain Defoe, although midfielder Jack Rodwell is a doubt after being forced off in midweek. Manchester United will be missing defensive trio Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Paddy McNair.
Prediction: Sunderland continue to be disastrously error-prone defensively, and a Manchester United team invigorated going forward by Martial should be able to capitalize sufficiently in order to pick up another three points. While United have some defensive issues of their own, Sunderland lack the attacking threat to punish them.
Predicted score: Manchester United 2-0 Sunderland
Kickoff time: 10 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBC
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra