Sir Alex Ferguson will celebrate 25-years as manager of Manchester United this weekend and his players will be desperate to mark the occasion with a win against Sunderland at Old Trafford.
Since taking over in November 1986 the Scot hasn’t looked back overseeing the clubs most successful period building title winning teams over and again bringing through some of the best footballers the world has ever seen. He is quite simply the greatest manager in British football history but in true Ferguson style he will downplay the occasion and get on with his job and his passion – winning football matches. He’ll certainly be expecting his side to emerge victorious from their tussle with the Black Cats after toiling to a hard fought 1-0 win over Everton last week. It was the perfect response to their derby day humiliation at the hands of neighbours City a fortnight ago – which called for the famous hairdryer treatment. They followed up the victory on Merseyside with a hard fought Champions League win over Romanian minnows Otelul Galati with Wayne Rooney being deployed in an unfamiliar central midfield role. Creativity in the engine room has been a concern for Ferguson this season with his summer pursuit of Wesley Sneijder proving fruitless leaving the midfield without a natural playmaker. Whether Rooney is asked to perform the same role on Saturday remains to be seen. Injury to Tom Cleverley and Ashley Young have further weakened the creative side of the midfield and they’ll both miss the visit of Sunderland.
It’s rather poignant that one of Ferguson’s former players is the manager he will be battling against this week. Former Red Devil’s captain and current Black Cats boss Steve Bruce led United to their first league title back in 1993 and is now trying to emulate his old mentor in the dugout. His side have endured a painful start to the season losing at home to local rivals Newcastle and winning only one of their opening eight games. However their win over Bolton a fortnight ago and last week’s draw with Aston Villa have lifted spirits on Wearside. Bruce was the subject of much derision from his own fans last month but a battling display that saw them peg Villa back twice has alleviated the pressure on his shoulders. The burgeoning partnership of teenager Connor Wickham and on-loan Nicklas Bendtner looks like it could develop into a deadly one with the former scoring his first goal for the club last week. Both will be tasked with physically imposing themselves on a United back line that has looked far from solid in the last few weeks and ending a run of one win in 20 top flight meetings. Sunderland haven’t beaten Ferguson’s side since 2-1 victory at Roker Park in 1997 and they’ve failed to taste victory at Old Trafford since 1968. Bruce himself has yet to get the upper hand on his old boss and will be hoping to spoil is celebrations and finally get the upper hand on him at the 18th attempt.
Wayne Rooney – Goals have flowed for Rooney this season with his partnerships with Danny Wellbeck and Javier Hernandez showing he can adapt his game to play with either. Could be asked to drop back into midfield again and use his vision and playmaking abilities to take down Sunderland and give his boss the perfect silver anniversary present.
Stephane Sessegnon – Scored for the second consecutive game last week after heading home a late equaliser to seal a point against Villa. The Frenchman has grown slowly into his role at the Stadium of Light and is now looking every inch the skilful playmaker Bruce say during his time at PSG.