Seventh place in the table. Eliminated from the FA Cup by Swansea City. A slew of elite European teams still alive in the Champions League. For Manchester United, the Capital One Cup may very well be the best opportunity for a trophy this season.
Of course, for Sunderland, the Capital One Cup almost assuredly will be their best chance at silverware this season, unless the club can duplicate their run in this tournament at the FA Cup. That seems unlikely for a team currently at the very bottom of the Premier League table, however.
So there's plenty on the line in this matchup, even if United will come into the game as clear favourites. Let's break it down.
When: Tuesday, January 7 at 2:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. GMT)
Where: Stadium of Light, Sunderland, England
Watch: beIN Sport; beIN Sport Play; Sky Sports 1 (U.K.); Sky Go (U.K.)
You might think that United would settle for a draw in this match before heading back to Old Trafford, but keep in mind that in Premier League play, last year's champions have actually earned more points on the road (20) than at home (14) this season.
Of course, Sunderland might interpret that to mean that whatever home-field advantage they thought they might hold is a moot point. They have given up 17 goals in Premier League play at the Stadium of Light, after all.
While many Sunderland fans would surely love nothing more than a trophy this season, defender Wes Brown said he still believes avoiding relegation should be the team's priority (via Simon Bird of the Mirror):
It is a great question and one the fans would agree and disagree about. But personally I would not want to get relegated. I think that would be my priority.
It would be great to get to a final and maybe win a cup, but all season you play league games against top clubs week-in week-out. I would hate to lose that.
But being in the cup is important and since we are at this late stage it would be a great achievement to get to the final in itself.
Players don't think about the loss of Premier League television money. It is all about personal pride. As long as we do what we are being asked to do out on the pitch and show commitment, grit, determination in this struggle that is what we have to do.
But according to Darren Fletcher of Manchester United, the Red Devils are now approaching this match with the utmost urgency, especially after losing to Swansea in the FA Cup. His comments, via Alex Fisher of Goal.com:
We are away to Sunderland and we've got to recover quickly and lift ourselves. That's a massive game now. We have to raise our performance level. We feel like we've let the manager, fans and everyone down.
One would think a match against an overmatched Sunderland side would be a remedy to United's woes, who have now lost two games in a row.
It also remains to be seen if star forward Wayne Rooney will play in this match. He's been battling a groin injury and did not feature against Swansea. If he can't go, Sunderland will be feeling much, much better about their chances.
In turn, players like Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez or perhaps even Shinji Kagawa will have to step up in his stead. United have the depth to overcome a Rooney injury, but they would be a no-brainer pick to win this match were he fully healthy.
With or without Rooney, United should win this match. Sunderland has done well to get this far in the tournament, but United are built to win tournaments such as this one if they advanced to the latter stages.
With this now being the most realistic piece of silverware for them to acquire, you can bet United won't take this match lightly. They win the first-round fixture on the road over Sunderland, 2-1.
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