Ahead of Saturday's match with Sunderland at Old Trafford, we've reached out to the Sunderland community here on the SB Nation network, Roker Report, for a Q&A exchange. The lead editor for their site, Simon Walsh, was gracious enough to answer some questions for us. Here's the Q&A:
TBB: Goals have seemingly been tough to come by for Sunderland this season. The media made much about Steven Fletcher being the only one scoring league goals for awhile -- are there, though, other goal-scoring threats that Manchester United should be worried about? Is Fletcher mostly reliant on service from out wide and from set-piece deliveries?
RR: Goals were certainly tough to come by early on in the season, but things seem to have picked up in recent weeks.
With regards to the question about other threats, well, there isn't any major ones. It will depend on whether Stephane Sessegnon feels particularly up for it, and it's good to see that Adam Johnson and James McClean are beginning to up their game of late. Mainly though, it's all about feeding Fletcher as much as possible. If he's not scoring the goals, he'll certainly bring others into play. Don't rule out what is now a 'trademark' Craig Gardner strike from long distance either.
I wouldn't have said we were reliant on crosses or set-pieces, but they are a big part of our game.
TBB: Speaking of other goal-scoring threats, can you talk more about Stephane Sessegnon? Last season, there seemed to be abundant of his highlights but footage of him seems to be drying up this season. What makes him dangerous as a secondary striker/central-attacking-midfielder? What can he improve on?
RR: In the simplest of terms we absolutely love Sess. He's someone who can at any given moment provide a moment of magic. Fulham away this season was perhaps the most quintessential Sessegnon match. He was awful all game, and a very likely candidate to get the hook, but then he pops up with a 30+ yard screamer. He has that potential every time he steps onto the pitch.
With regards to him regaining his danger, he kind of needs to decide - or perhaps O'Neill needs to decide - what he wants to be. Sometimes he can go missing in the no-mans land between midfield and attack. I'd like to see him stick near Fletcher as a true secondary striker. To do that though he needs to not get bored or go chasing the game. Something you lot managed to drum out of Wayne Rooney eventually in a way.
TBB: Let's discuss the wide areas now. How has the former Manchester City winger Adam Johnson settled in? On the other flank, how is last season's sensation, James McClean, doing this campaign? I've noticed that left-back Danny Rose is essentially your side's leader in passes completed per game -- can you discuss his role? Any realistic chance his loan can become a permanent move?
RR: Johnson was a little slow to settle in, which enabled the stupider contingent of our fans to label him a waste of money. Now though he's picked things up significantly and looks really good on the left and the right, which is good to see us have options now.
McClean was a bit like Johnson and started poorly, which lead us to question if last season was a fluke or not. He's picked it up though, and Reading on Tuesday was easily his best game of the season so far. It had been coming too, he's gradually getting back to the form which had him as a hot property last season.
Danny Rose is incredible. I'd probably name my first-born child Danny Rose if it meant we could sign him permanently. I think it will take a hell of a lot of money, but it would be worth every penny. His role isn't anything out the ordinary, he's just a left back who attacks with real ability and danger, and defends superbly too. An all round player and a class act.
TBB: Martin O'Neill started like a house on fire about a year ago for Sunderland. The Northern Ireland manager has cooled down since. He's obviously a well-respected manager in England, but with your club's recent struggles, how secure is his job right now? In general, what's the pulse of the supporters in regards to their feelings about the gaffer? What are the expectations from here-and-out?
RR: Martin O'Neill's job is very secure, he isn't going anywhere. There's a few idiots who want him ousted, but as said, they're idiots. There's nobody better around for the job, and you'd back him over anyone to be able to turn things around. Even if we went down I'd still stick with him. We won't though. He knows what he's doing, and he's just as disappointed as the rest of us.
Expectations wise, I think we just have to take each game as it comes and try to get as high in the league as possible to help attract more talent to the club.
TBB: What are the injury concerns ahead of Saturday's match? Sunderland were obviously impressive in their midweek 3-0 defeat of Reading, but the likes of Adam Johnson, Phil Bardsley, and Danny Rose seemed to all have picked up knocks. If those three are out, who might deputise or how might players be shifted around for Saturday's starting XI?
RR: Injury wise the only one likely to miss this weekend is Phil Bardsley who seems to be sidelined for a significant amount of time, which is actually a relatively good thing for us as Craig Gardner has comfortably out-performed him at right back this season. Rose and Johnson had to go off too, but these were just slight knocks that meant they would have been a liability for the rest of the Reading game, but they'll be fine for Saturday.
With Lee Cattermole out for a length of time it means there could be rejigging in midfield and Gardner staying there, forcing O'Shea or Cuellar to right back with Bramble in the middle. I hope Gardner starts there though.
Everything else should be as you'd expect though.