The Stadium of Light will aptly shine some answers this Sunday afternoon on two clubs presently in the dark.
Sunderland’s miraculous rescue mission last season – including shock triumphs at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge and a tremendous point at Manchester City – certainly reinvigorated a side that lay fractious and shredded of confidence after Paulo Di Canio’s reign of madness, but a nothing-to-lose charge is one thing: now we uncover the true extent of the damage the erratic Italian caused and whether indeed Gus Poyet is the man to bring stability and standing back to Wearside.
An encouraging opening day draw at the Hawthorns bodes well and arguably a passionate home clash against the thirteen times Premier League champions is the perfect early opportunity to measure how far down the road to convalescence they are.
Sunderland win – 15/4
Manchester United win – 7/10
Draw – 5/2
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
This is equally true – and seemingly when is it not? – of Jack Rodwell, Sunderland’s £10m summer acquisition, who should benefit from an hour’s workout at West Brom and will hope for similar this weekend partnered alongside the fiery Lee Cattermole.
Cattermole is guilty at times of resembling a headless chicken that has staggered its way into a pair of boots but the onus falls on him this term to bolster an otherwise lightweight midfield since the unexpected north-east defection of Jack Colback. A huge season awaits the fan’s favourite and it is imperative that he finally curbs his infamous disciplinary problems that averages a red for every 27 games and has led to the second most dismissals since the Premier League formed. These are damning and startling stats for a 26 year old.
Unless Poyet can turn around a frustrating transfer window and strengthen the spine Cattermole will be as instrumental to Sunderland’s fortunes as the calm assurance provided by Brown and O’Shea who will both be once again looking to show their former employer that they’ve aged like fine wine or George Clooney’s face. The duo have forged an impressive bedrock of experience at the back for the Black Cats and boast a decent 2014 record against United, winning two and drawing one of their three encounters. It’s a record they will want to continue.
From a neutral’s point of view most eyes will be on the visitors this Sunday with a million ABUs (‘anyone but United’) desperately hoping to share yet more gifs of David Moyes manically laughing.
This very fixture two years ago was the most defining in Manchester United’s recent history leading to a chain of events that took in short-term success, upheaval, catastrophe, and ultimately the temporary loss of their famed fear factor.
Despite the Reds disposing of Sunderland on the final day of 2012 their bitter city rivals achieved last-gasp immortality and perceivably wrestled a large chunk of the power and prestige long-held in Salford across to the blue half of Manchester.
This forced a wounded Sir Alex Ferguson to postpone his retirement for a final campaign and the proud Govan man was never going to risk his personal quest for departing glory by making the necessary overhauling of an aging, mediocre squad. After somehow bullying and cajoling the tired limbs of Ferdinand and limited vision of Cleverley to a title he then handed over the shambles-in-waiting to Moyes. Faced with a daunting task of dismantling a clique of established superstars whilst attempting to fill impossibly large shoes Moyes’ fate as the chosen scapegoat was sealed the minute he took the job.
Which brings us to the here and now of Louis Van Gaal, a Champions League winner with the stature and arrogance to carry the oppressive demands of bossing United snug in his suit breast pocket.
The narrative of this summer is that the Dutchman will bring attacking adventure and imperious swagger back to Old Trafford and both the supporters and media have been keen to depict him as Ferguson 2.0. But a shock 2-1 reverse to Swansea last week pricked the confidence and allowed doubts to seep in that one individual – no matter how savvy and worldly-wise – is not the instant solution to fundamental shortcomings.
For all the talk of Van Gaal mirroring his United side on his Holland team that nearly stole the show in Brazil – with three at the back and incisive moment – the likes of Young, Valencia and the up-and-coming Januzaj are not fit to grace Arjen Robben’s jet-heels while a trio of Jones, Smalling and Blackett as a defensive foundation are, quite frankly, perfectly ordinary.
There will be as much interest in his line-up this Sunday as the performance and result and even more interest in any transfer movement that urgently needs to happen.
So will Sunderland’s great escape last May prove to be nothing more than a stay of execution? Or has Poyet steadied the ship as they sail to mid-table calm waters?
Will Van Gaal bring glory, glory back to United or will a second defeat hint at continued crisis and the distant sound of knives sharpening?
Ninety minutes at the Stadium of Light won’t provide all of the answers. But there will be clues aplenty.
Betting Instinct tip – Sunderland to avoid defeat and increase the pressure on their visitors is 2.02 with Intertops.eu