Ryan Giggs will get another chance to display his coaching credentials when Manchester United host a revived Sunderland on Saturday. Giggs’ spell as interim manager got off to an ideal start when United disposed of another relegation-threatened side, Norwich City, 4-0 a week ago. It appears, though, that no matter what results Giggs racks up in the final three games of the season, his time as boss for a club with which he has been a part for 26 years will be a short one. At least for the time being.
Louis van Gaal is widely expected to be appointed as David Moyes’ permanent successor in the next week, leaving Giggs with much to consider. At his press conference on Friday, he suggested for the first time that among his options is taking up a managerial role elsewhere.
“I have got to decide if I want to play or not so there is no point thinking if I want to be an assistant or if I want to be a manager somewhere else,” he said, according to The Guardian. “There are so many things to think about. The way I am thinking is I am enjoying it and then my concentration is on the remaining two games and then like I have just said, we will see what happens at the end of the season.”
After a slow start against Norwich, there was much encouragement to be taken from United’s second-half performance. Notably, there was a welcome increase in the tempo of United’s play from the uninspiring fair that has been witnessed for much of the season. Having started the game with a 4-4-2 formation, the Premier League champions really got going when Juan Mata came off the bench to give the side a much more fluid look.
Having also scored twice, there appears a strong chance that Mata will be in from the start on Saturday, especially with doubts about the fitness of Wayne Rooney. Giggs revealed that the forward has been struggling with a tight groin as well as a stomach bug that has hit several members of the squad. While Rooney is always desperate to play, with the World Cup just over a month away, caution may well be employed. That is even more likely to be true regarding Robin van Perise. Although back in training, the Dutch striker’s succession of niggling injuries this season should mean few chances are taken over his fitness.
A rejuvenated United can expect a tougher test than a week ago. Sunderland leapfrogged Norwich to move out of the drop zone on goal difference following a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Cardiff City last week. Having looked doomed to the Championship just a few weeks ago following a run of five straight defeats, Gus Poyet’s side have now taken seven points from their last three matches and also have a game in hand on those below them,
Old Trafford is unlikely to hold any fear, with Sunderland getting a point at Manchester City before becoming the first team ever to beat a Jose Mourinho Chelsea side in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge. Crucial to their recent run has been the performances and specifically goals of Connor Wickham. After spending much of the season on loan with Championship clubs Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United, the 21-year-old was recalled to try and solve Sunderland’s woeful lack of goals. And the once highly tipped teenager who was signed for over £8 million three years ago has done so spectacularly and begun to fulfill his potential.
“We got to a point where we needed something different, special,” Poyet said, according to Sunderland’s official website. “He had a chance. After that it was all up to him. Forget about the head coach giving him a chance or giving him confidence. We can talk about that, but at the end of the day it’s all about the player on the pitch.”
Equally important on Saturday will be the ability of a Sunderland defense, which has been porous for much of the season, to continue its recent improvement. At the heart of meeting that challenge will be former Manchester United central defensive duo Wes Brown and John O’Shea, who will have particular incentive to impress.
It promises to be a far tighter affair than at Old Trafford a week ago, but the shackle-loosening under Giggs, combined with the greater feel-good factor around the club could see United just halt Sunderland’s recent run and help Giggs’ future job prospects, wherever he may end up.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Sunderland
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available via NBC Sports Live Extra.