Manchester United is soaring towards a title, and Sunderland will be the next speed bump on the road towards another trophy for England’s most successful club.
But the Black Cats have more to fight for in this game. Martin O'Neill's side is 15th in the table, but just four points above the bottom three. This is the time of the season where teams start playing for their lives.
The threat of relegation and a supportive home crowd will be powerful motivating factors for Sunderland, and United, who are 15 points clear atop the table, will not be able to take this matchup lightly.
Here is everything you need to know about the fixture.
Where: Stadium of Light, Sunderland, England
When: Saturday, March 30, 8:45 p.m. ET
Watch: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes
Live Stream: ESPN3
What They’re Saying
Sunderland’s Steven Fletcher has been the team’s only consistent striker, but he is out for the remainder of the season after suffering an ankle injury while on international duty for Scotland. ESPN’s Colin Randall breaks down the Black Cats’ other options up top:
Danny Graham has done little to impress, and also failed to score, since joining from Swansea City in the January transfer window. Connor Wickham's confidence - already, we can assume, in better shape than Graham's - will be high after a man-of-the-match display in England Under 21s' 4-0 victory over Austria. He has scored in cup games, on loan to Sheffield Wednesday and in his junior internationals though not in his few moments of Premier action this season.
Manchester United Player to Watch: Robin van Persie
At the start of the season, no goal-scorer was in better form that van Persie. But the incredible start to his United career has not continued into the latter part of the season, and he has scored just once in his last 10 games for the Red Devils.
But over the international break, he found the back of the nets three times in two matches for the Netherlands. This may be the spark he needs to get back on track.
The Ducthman scored just 19 minutes into his last match against Sunderland, and also found Wayne Rooney to record an assist before the match was over. He was the best player on the pitch in that 3-1 victory in December.
The stage is set for him to finish his first season with United strong.
Sunderland Player to Watch: Stephane Sessegnon
The crafty midfielder has provided Sunderland’s attack with creativity and flare, and he has five goals and two assists this season.
He will be responsible for putting pressure on United’s centre-backs, and if he gets lost in this game, Sunderland will not be able to put together any semblance of a productive attack.
The Black Cats' goal total is less than half of United’s, and there is no doubt that the Red Devils create significantly more danger going forward, especially with Fletcher sidelined.
For Sunderland to get a goal in this game, it will take a superb effort from Sessegnon.
Key Matchup: Battle of the Central Midfielders
Sunderland simply has to hope that van Persie’s early-season form does not return in this match, but it can control the amount of times the star striker receives the ball.
In the last matchup, United controlled the ball for 62 percent of the match, and both deep-lying midfielders had fantastic outings. Michael Carrick notched an assist while Tom Cleverley put his name on the score sheet.
If the Red Devils' midfielders are once again able to control the tempo of the match and produce a constant supply of passes to the strikers, the Black Cats have no chance in this contest.
Sunderland must tackle well and get out of their own half on Saturday, or they will become the latest team to suffer defeat at the hands of United.
Prediction: Manchester United 3, Sunderland 1
The date has changed since the last time these two teams played, but the score line will stay the same.
With van Persie’s fine display over the international break, the United attack is ready to resume its dominance. The Dutchman’s presence will open up space for the rest of his teammates.
Just like the last meeting, the Red Devils midfielders will push forward and trap Sunderland in its own defensive third.
United will jump out to an early lead, and the Black Cats do not have the attacking talent to come back after falling behind.
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