On Saturday, February 28th Sunderland travel to Manchester to do battle with Manchester United at the Theatre of Dreams. The two teams are at opposite ends of the Barclays Premier League, with United in fourth place on 47 points and Sunderland are in 16th place with 25 points. United are just one point off third place currently, and are in the midst of an FA Cup run. Meanwhile, Sunderland have just 25 points and are only three points out of the relegation places.
With that in mind, let's think about five things to look out for from Saturday's match...
1) Can Sunderland continue their impressive recent form against Manchester United?
These two teams drew back in August when they last met, and Sunderland secured an away victory last spring against United, their first in 46 years. Going back farther than that, the Black Cats advanced on penalty-kicks when these two met in the Capital One Cup Semi-Finals last winter. While they have struggled for the last several seasons in the league, Sunderland have tended to show top form against the Red Devils. We'll have to wait until Saturday to find out if that impressive recent form against United will continue.
2) Will Ander Herrera be in the starting XI?
The Spaniard has struggled for starting opportunities this term in spite of looking very impressive every time he has been on the pitch. Recently, first-team opportunities have been a bit easier to come by and Herrera has shown a penchant for scoring big goals. He scored the opener against Yeovil Town in the FA Cup 3rd Round and the equalizer against Preston North End in the 5th Round. Herrera injects pace, quality and a willingness to go forward that no other United midfielder provides. Will United manager Louis Van Gaal have him in the starting line-up, or will he continue to feature from the substitutes' bench once more?
3) Will Jermain Defoe keep the Black Cats scoring?
Defoe scored Sunderland's last goal four matches ago in their 1-1 draw with Swansea City, and at the moment he seems to be their only offensive threat. Defoe is a proven goalscorer with both Tottenham Hotspur and England, but he has yet to score prolifically for Sunderland following his January move from Toronto FC. If the team from Wearside are to emerge with anything from the Theatre of Dreams, expect Defoe to play a part in it.
4) Who will start up-top for Manchester United?
With the recent news that Roin Van Persie is out for a month with an ankle injury, United's striker situation is only more confusing. Van Persie and Radamel Falcao have both struggled for form this season, and Wayne Rooney has tended to play through the midfield. Those decisions have not sat well with supporters, and with Van Persie now out many will call for Rooney to start alongside young James Wilson in attack. The Reds have been stagnant in attack for the majority of the season, but the mixture of pace and movement which Rooney and Wilson could solve that problem.
5) Will David De Gea see a dip in form?
Rumours emerged this week that David De Gea and Louis Van Gaal are no longer on speaking terms, and rumors have been circulating for months now that De Gea is destined for a move to La Liga giants Real Madrid. De Gea has been not just the standout goalkeeper in the Barclays Premier League but arguably one of the best in the world currently; putting in a number of truly world-class displays and has been United's most valuable player in the past season. However, with these fresh distractions, could De Gea see a dip in form?