After some midweek Capital One Cup respite, Manchester United return to Premier League action on Saturday at home to Sunderland. At present, the Black Cats sit rock bottom of the league, and, as the old cliché goes, the table doesn't lie. Only their North East rivals Newcastle United are offering them any competition for the unfortunate title of worst team in the entire division, and surely, surely United can't mess this one up ...
Despite having regularly been sucked into relegation battles due to all manner of problems (which I wrote about for SB Nation's main site earlier in the week), they've had an annoyingly good record against United over the last couple of years. Indeed, prior to United's win at Old Trafford the last time these sides met in February, they held United to a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light; in the encounter before they saw off United on penalties in a two-legged Capital One Cup semi-final. Will lightning strike thrice?
United will be without Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo, which will likely see Ashley Young filling it at left-back. Phil Jones could also be involved, but let's hope and pray that isn't the case. Paddy McNair is a doubt after picking up an injury in the win over Southampton last weekend.
Sunderland will be without full-back Adam Matthews, though Jermain Defoe and Jack Rodwell are both doubts.
Expect Sunderland to sit deep, pack men behind the ball and look to counter-attack with long hoofs in behind the defence for Jermain Defoe to run onto. It's not pretty and nor is it particularly effective, but it seems a case of needs must for Dick Advocaat.
They average a the sixth-lowest percentage of possession in the Premier League, with just 45.7%, and they tend to be aggressive when they're without the ball. With 16 yellow cards and one red, they have one of the worst disciplinary records in the entire division. Amazingly, some of those cards were awarded to players other than Lee Cattermole!
It's difficult to point out dangermen in a team that has looked so poor, but Defoe's probably the man they'll be counting on most. The England striker has always had a knack of sniffing out chances, and if the sort of service he's been receiving so this season is anything to go by, Sunderland are going to need his nostrils to be a-flaring in this game.
Elsewhere, Jeremain Lens and Adam Johnson are both reasonably talented wingers, and will offer a Sunderland a handy option on the counter-attack, and are markedly better at attacking than their defenders are at defending. The sheer number of individual errors the Black Cats' back line make is remarkable, and they could quickly buckle under pressure.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Young; Schneiderlin, Carrick; Mata, Rooney, Depay; Martial.
Sunderland (4-2-3-1): Pantilimon; van Aanholt, Kaboul, O'Shea, Jones; M'Vila, Gómez; Johnson, Toivonen, Lens; Defoe.