Manchester United will be confident of maintaining their six-point lead at the top of the Premier League table when they take on struggling Sunderland at Old Trafford on Saturday (3pm GMT).
Robin Van Persie’s injury time free kick saw United clinch a dramatic 3-2 victory away to local rivals City last weekend. That result moved them onto 39 points from 16 matches and saw them establish a comfortable cushion over their nearest challengers.
It was a match typical of United’s season to date, with goals flowing readily at both ends. Matches involving United have averaged more goals (3.94) than those involving any other team in the Premier League this season. Sunday’s was the eighth time they have been a part of a match in which five or more goals have been scored.
United have conceded 23 goals to date, the joint-eighth worst record in the division. Sir Alex Ferguson has indicated in recent weeks that he is far from happy to see his team conceding on such a regular basis. Set-pieces have often been their Achilles heel, with 11 of those 23 conceded from dead ball situations.
Ferguson will not, however, be unduly concerned as long as his forwards continue to find the back of the net with even greater regularity. United have scored 40 goals so far, at a rate of 2.5 per match that would see them score 95 if they could maintain it over the length of the season.
United have scored ten more goals than any other team and with the likes of Van Persie (11 goals to date), Wayne Rooney (two against City, six in total) and Javier Hernandez (five) up front have a potent strike force capable of penetrating even the most resolute of defences.
But it is not just the strikers who are finding the back of the net as United’s goals are coming from all over the pitch. They have had 15 different scorers this season – the most in the division – including four defenders and seven midfielders.
United carry an offensive threat that has allowed them to come from behind to secure victory on 10 occasions this season. They have been an all or nothing team across all competitions, recording 17 wins, 6 defeats, but no draws.
Sunderland, on the other hand, have struggled to score the goals necessary to pick up a satisfactory number of points so far this season and are currently in the lower reaches of the Premier League table.
It would be premature to herald their 3-0 victory over Reading on Tuesday night as a turning point. The goals will have lifted ailing confidence, but whipping boys Reading are second bottom of the league.
Sunderland have drawn more matches than almost all other teams in the division and have already been involved in three 0-0s. A series of dour, unimaginative performances have done little to inspire confidence that a relegation battle can be avoided.
It is a far cry from the positive mood that enveloped the Stadium of Light in the months following Martin O’Neill’s appointment in December. Sunderland embarked on a run of seven wins from his first ten matches and at one point even looked capable of making a late run for a European place.
The wheels fell off a little after that early promise, however, as Sunderland failed to win any of their last nine matches of the campaign. That run was extended into this season, finally ending at 13 matches with a 1-0 victory at home to ten-man Wigan.
O’Neill has always been a manager who relies on solid defending and swift counter-attacking. With the offensive portion of his team currently not functioning as required, he has looked a little lost in terms of changing things around.
Sunderland have one of the worst scoring records in the division and are also among the worst in respect of shots and shots on target per match. Their conversion rate is actually quite high, but they are not creating anywhere near enough chances.
Adam Johnson has impressed in fits and starts since his summer move from Manchester City, but O’Neill really needs to get more out of Stephane Sessegnon and James McClean. Sunderland have a capable finisher in Steven Fletcher, but he needs better service if he is to score the goals required to pull them clear of the bottom three.
Man Utd v Sunderland Betting Tips Advice
United are in excellent form, having secured four wins on the bounce. They are clear favourites to emerge victorious against a Sunderland side whose goal scoring woes see them rooted in the lower reaches of the table.