Sir Alex Ferguson has said that he will field a strong lineup at Sunderland on Saturday, despite his Manchester United side having an FA Cup quarterfinal replay with Chelsea just 48 hours later.
It is certainly a challenging schedule and it is expected that Ferguson will rotate his squad heavily, particularly with United holding a 15 point lead over Manchester City atop the Premier League table. Ferguson has explained that much preparation is going into ensuring that the team comes away with two positive results.
"We're flying back from the game and that helps a good bit,” he revealed, according to Manchester United’s official website. “Rather than sitting on a coach for two or three hours, we should be back within an hour from Newcastle Airport. We've put a lot of thought into it to make sure we're ready for the game against Chelsea.
"I always believe winning is a good habit to have, to try and keep the momentum going, so obviously we'll play a strong side at Sunderland and Monday will have to look after itself.
"There will be changes for Monday but, at the moment, we're going to play a strong side against Sunderland and see where it takes us."
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Ferguson’s options should be increased with Nani, Paul Scholes and Phil Jones all returning to training.
The injury news is far less positive for Sunderland. In the past few days, it has been confirmed that leading scorer Steven Fletcher as well as influential midfielder Lee Cattermole will both miss the rest of the season.
Having taken just three points from the last 21 available to slip to within four points of the Premier League’s relegation zone it is another bitter blow to manager Martin O’Neil.
With matches to come against Chelsea and local rivals Newcastle after facing the table toppers, Sunderland are certainly facing a scrap to avoid an ignominious drop out of the top flight.
D: Gardner, O’Shea, Cuellar, Rose
M: Larsson, Vaughan
Johnson, Sessegnon, McClean
Manchester United (probable)
G: De Gea
D: Rafael, Ferdinand, Smalling, Buttner
M: Cleverley, Anderson
Valencia, Kagawa, Rooney
Prediction: Despite Ferguson’s comments, it would be a major surprise were there not major changes made to the United side. And with the FA Cup meeting against Chelsea almost certain to be prioritized, it could very much be a second-string that faces Sunderland.
That should give Sunderland a boost, but it is hard to see them capitalizing. Goals were already a problem for the Black Cats and, without Fletcher, much now depends on January signing Danny Graham, who has yet to score for his new club.
United have not been at their best since exiting the Champions League, but should still pick up a routine victory.
Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League encounter will kick-off from the Stadium of Light at 8.45 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on ESPN3.