Manchester United, with four straight wins, three consecutive Premier League wins and ten matches unbeaten, is quietly becoming the side everyone thought it would be at the beginning of the season. Considering Louis van Gaal’s famous opening interview as Manchester United manager, stating that three months of Premier League would be needed to allow the side to settle down, Jose Mourinho’s struggles are now put into context with the vast improvement of the side after around three months.
However, another side that has improved significantly is Sunderland, managed by former United man David Moyes, and the Black Cats have won enough games to almost drag them out of the relegation zone after a dismal start. Moyes seems to be the first Sunderland manager to have a project in a very long time. That being said, with the form of United’s key players, Sunderland shouldn’t have a chance, regardless of the talents they may have at their disposal.
Jermain Defoe, Striker, Sunderland
Emerging as a Premier League hero once again, Jermain Defoe has been nothing short of prolific, especially considering some of Sunderland’s creative threats. Still quick as ever and lethal in the box, Defoe will bury most of the chances given to him, and the former Tottenham star has been Sunderland’s most important player by a distance, scoring eight and assisting two of Sunderland’s fifteen goals this season, the lowest tally in the Premier League. Think about that for a second- one player has been directly involved in 67% of Sunderland’s goals.
Jordan Pickford, Goalkeeper, Sunderland
Premier League fans were skeptical at first when Jordan Pickford rose through the youth ranks and into David Moyes’ first team, but now, the decision seems like a masterstroke. Pickford has been incredible this season so far, making ridiculous saves and carrying the Sunderland defence’s weight on his shoulders. Away goalkeepers at Old Trafford have been a common theme this year, with Tom Heaton, Lee Grant, Petr Cech and Hugo Lloris coming to mind, and United needs to make sure Pickford doesn’t become another statistic on Monday.
Phil Jones, Central Defender, Manchester United
Phil Jones seems like the best candidate to nominate for this list for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he has been immense since his reintroduction to the side, standing out most for making an incredible 8.9 clearances every 90 minutes. Secondly, it will be interesting to see how he deals with another promising striker in Jermain Defoe. Finally, with the rumours of Victor Lindelof coming into Manchester United, Jones will need to up his game, because United already has five central defenders and likely won’t have room for six.
Ander Herrera, Midfielder, Manchester United
Most people believe that United’s purchase of Ander Herrera was a decision made by Moyes himself, after the Scot tried to sign the midfielder in 2013, but failed. Now, in the form of his life, Herrera has been arguably United’s best player this season, and his tenacious displays mark exactly what was missing for United during the Moyes era. It will be interesting to see if Herrera makes any contact with Moyes during the match, and if he can make an influential contribution to the outcome of this fixture.