Sunderland vs. Manchester United: Complete Premier League Preview
You can breathe a sigh of relief, football fans, the Premier League roars back into action this weekend.
League-leading Manchester United have practically got the big one locked up but will take nothing for granted as Manchester City look to overturn the 15-point difference in the final stretch of the season.
Sunderland host the Red Devils on Saturday in a lunchtime kickoff at the Stadium of Light.
Here is a preview of the match, complete with injury updates, projected lineups and match facts.
Welcome back, EPL.
Injuries and Suspensions
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On the injuries and suspensions front, Manchester United are a tad better off than their opponents heading into the weekend (via Fantasy Football Scout).
The Red Devils will be without long-term absentee Darren Fletcher, while Nani, Phil Jones and Paul Scholes are all battling to overcome niggling problems.
Sunderland are missing Lee Cattermole, former United man Wes Brown and Steven Fletcher, who was ruled out for the season having picked up an ankle injury on International duty.
Stephane Sessegnon withdrew from Benin's World Cup Qualifier complaining of a groin injury, the extent of which is unknown.
Wes Brown: knee injury (unavailable)
Steven Fletcher: ankle injury (unavailable)
Lee Cattermole: knee injury (unavailable)
David Vaughan: groin injury (doubtful)
Stephane Sessegnon: groin injury (doubtful)
Darren Fletcher: illness (unavailable)
Nani: hamstring injury (doubtful)
Phil Jones: ankle injury (doubtful)
Paul Scholes: knee injury (doubtful)
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With many of Manchester United's most prominent players engaged in international action over the long weekend, it is difficult to predict Sir Alex Ferguson's starting lineup.
Whether he fields his strongest possible lineup or opts for rotation, he will not underestimate his opponents.
Ryan Giggs could see himself in the starting XI, as could Rio Ferdinand, who controversially withdrew from the England setup last week.
With Lee Cattermole and Steven Fletcher ruled out for the rest of the season, Martin O'Neill has a slight selection dilemma for Saturday's clash.
Former Swansea City forward Danny Graham could be asked to lead the line, while youngster Connor Wickham could also be in contention for a place in the starting lineup.
Sunderland: Simon Mignolet, John O'Shea, Carlos Cuellar, Danny Rose, Craig Gardner, Sebastian Larsson, James McClean, Adam Johnson, Stephane Sessegnon, Danny Graham, Connor Wickham.
Manchester United: David de Gea, Rafael, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie.
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Manchester United: WWLDW
Having been controversially knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid, the Red Devils haven't looked like the same side that had gone unbeaten from early December heading into that match.
Saturday's clash should prove a clean slate for them to finish the season in style.
Sunderland are in a dreadful run of form at present.
Martin O'Neill's side hasn't won a game since mid-January, losing four of their last six Premier League games.
Earlier this month, the manager said "we've got difficult fixtures coming up so we've got our work cut out. But I think we've known that, really, since the start of the season" (via ChronicleLive).
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Sunderland: John O'Shea
Former Manchester United defender John O'Shea moved to the north-east in 2011 in search of regular first-team football.
While this is exactly what he has got, the Irishman hasn't exactly set the world alight with his form.
His central partnership with Spaniard Carlos Cuellar may be one of the most exploitable in the Premier League at present.
Manchester United: Robin van Persie
There's no denying it, Robin van Persie has been in poor form for Manchester United recently.
The Dutch hit man has only scored one goal for the Red Devils since mid-January and not looked his usual self in and around the penalty area.
But three goals in two international games for the Netherlands over the long weekend will give United fans hope that he has turned a corner.
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The Black Cats have lost 17 of their last 23 Premier League fixtures with Manchester United, winning just one.
Sunderland have picked up only three points from their previous seven EPL games.
Craig Gardner's penalty against Norwich two weeks ago took Sunderland to joint-third in the EPL in penalties scored this season (four).
Despite having picked up a measly two points from their last six games, Martin O'Neill's side has only failed to score once in that period.
Sir Alex's side beat Sunderland 3-1 in the reverse fixture in December thanks to goals from Van Persie, Tom Cleverley and Wayne Rooney.
If Manchester United can avoid picking up a card of any colour Saturday, it will be the first time they've gone five games in a row without a player being booked or sent off.
The Red Devils have only dropped four points from a possible 51 in their last 17 Premier League games.
Despite having scored the most goals this season, United currently rank seventh in the EPL in shots per game with 15.2 (via WhoScored.com).
What do you think the score will be this Saturday? Who will play?