When Manchester United beat Sunderland at the Stadium of Light late last season Federico Macheda scored just his second goal for the club. It proved a vital strike as United claimed an 18th title. Sir Alex Ferguson may once again need to call upon the teenage Italian striker’s heroics if United is to secure a fourth Premier League title in a row.
Ferguson’s side takes on Steve Bruce’s Wearsiders in the late afternoon Sunday kick-off just moments after Chelsea’s pivotal match at Anfield finishes. Whatever the result on Merseyside, United must win in the North East to stand a realistic chance on the last day of the season.
Ferguson will call upon the both Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney, whose calf and groin injuries have recovered sufficiently for each to take part in full training on Friday.
With the England duo returning Jonny Evans and Dimitar Berbatov will drop to the bench, with Ferguson also likely to keep faith in both Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in midfield. Gary Neville may return after missing United’s 3-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.
In praising United’s performance against the Londoners, Ferguson focussed on his side’s ability to deal with the inevitable pressure as the title race comes to a dramatic close.
“We played without nerves last week and we showed great temperament,” said Ferguson.
“At 1-1 with 20 minutes left, we had to raise the bar. I thought that was the best part of our game. We showed great determination to get back in front.
“We made one or two changes, which worked for us. But the temperament was fantastic.
“If you get that with three games to go then you can be confident and trust your players for the last two matches. I hope it goes down to the last game. If we get a chance to win it in the last game, that’s all we would wish for.”
Sunderland, safe from relegation and chasing a potential eight in the Premier League, has several absentees for United’s visit to the Stadium of Light. Full-back Alan Hutton will miss the game through suspension, while Andy Reid and George McCartney remain in the treatment room. Bruce welcomes back Michael Turner, John Mensah and Lee Cattermole following injury.
“Sunderland have hit form,” added the United manager.
“My old captain has done a great job there, and he’s started to bring one or two young players. It’s refreshing to see a manager putting his trust in young players.
“Darren Bent has had a great season, young Fraizer Campbell is doing very well. He’s getting a quota of goals and it is encouraging for him. Kenwyne Jones is also a real handful and they’ve got some good young players in their team, like [David] Meyler and [Jordan] Henderson. So, we know what we’re facing.”
While much of the pre-match focus surrounds Liverpool’s performance against the Londoners, United’s task is no less daunting, with Bruce’s side unbeaten on their home turf since mid-December.
“It’s one thing saying we hope Liverpool do us a turn,” added Ferguson.
“It’s Sunderland’s last home game of the season and they are in good form. Sunderland will do their best and we have to match that. It’s not an easy game.”