Fabio Borini converted from the penalty spot just after the hour mark to lead Sunderland past Manchester United in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semifinals. The Black Cats must now find a way to defend their 2-1 edge to play for the trophy.
United are in the midst of another lull. They have dropped four of their past five matches, including back-to-back home losses against Tottenham and Swansea to open the New Year. Their lack of dominance at Old Trafford this season is a concern.
Sunderland should gain confidence from that lackluster home play by United as well as the fact they have been able to play them tough twice already this season. They remain underdogs, but certainly have a realistic chance of moving on.
Let's check out all of the important viewing information for the second leg, followed by a breakdown of the top storyline and a match prediction.
Which club will advance to the Capital One Cup final?
Where: Old Trafford in Greater Manchester, England
When: Wednesday, Jan. 22 at 2:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. GMT)
Watch: beIN Sports and Sky Sports 1
Live Stream: beIN Sports Play
Match Odds (To qualify via SkyBet)
Manchester United: -250
Top Storyline: Can United overcome loss in first leg to advance?
United are coming off a 3-1 loss to Chelsea in which Samuel Eto'o, who was having a mundane season, netted a hat-trick. On the surface, it seemed like another example of the side's shortcomings, which could prevent the club from winning any trophies this season.
Phil Jones didn't see it that way. The defender told the club's official site that the lapses overshadow what was an otherwise strong performance from the Red Devils, and he believes they can turn things around if they stick together:
'I don't think we're a long way away from the teams at the top,' Jones told ManUtd.com. 'You look at our first half performance today and, barring the two goals we conceded, we were fantastic.'
'If Chelsea are one of the best two or three teams in the country, then I think you have to say we can be right up there alongside them—our performance in the first half proves that. We're not a million miles away, I'm telling you, but we need to stick together if we're going to turn it around.'
It's an optimistic outlook to be sure. Yet, based purely on talent United can make the case they are due to breakthrough at any moment. Taking care of business against a club like Sunderland, which sits in 19th place in league, play would be a sign of progress.
One thing Jones and co. must do to advance is keep Adam Johnson under control. The talented midfielder has been in fantastic form as of late. OptaJoe points out that he's been involved in six straight goals for the club:
6 - Adam Johnson has either scored (four) or assisted (two) Sunderland's last six league goals. Pivotal.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 18, 2014
If United can prevent Johnson from putting together another game-changing performance, the rest of the pressure will fall on the attack. Whether it's Javier Hernandez, a returning Wayne Rooney or somebody else asked to lead the offense, they must be more forceful in the final third.
United won the possession battle in the first leg. When they got near goal, however, their efficiency was sorely lacking. That must change if they are going to overcome the 2-1 deficit to reach the Capital One Cup championship match.
David Moyes is facing a lot of heat as he tries to get things back on track after a very frustrating campaign so far. Beating Sunderland in the League Cup semifinals won't alleviate all of the pressure, but it would help. Getting eliminated would only cause the scrutiny to grow exponentially.
The Black Cats are likely to employ a very defensive formation in an attempt to cause further struggles for a lagging United attack. It's going to take an inspired performance for Moyes' side to emerge with a place in the final, but they should find a way to get it done.
Manchester United 2, Sunderland 0