Chris Young’s big-match analysis: Sunderland need to tighten up ... and attack Man United’s faltering defence

Emanuele Giaccherini scores Sunderland's first goal during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Liverpool.

Emanuele Giaccherini scores Sunderland's first goal during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Liverpool.

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IT’S THEIR worst start to a league campaign since New Kids on the Block were giving teenage girls palpitations.

Doubters snipe at the capabilities of the new emperor facing the impossible task of emulating the old overlord.

A summer of transfer frustration saw just one notable addition to an ageing squad.

And the defence looks in tatters after it was torn to shreds by a frustratingly on-song ex-Sunderland maverick.

Don’t pen those obituaries just yet, though.

Yes, this is very much a Manchester United in transition and the invincible aura has indeed begun to splinter after a modest return of just seven points from the opening six Premier League outings.

But a formidable task still lies in front of Sunderland tomorrow.

Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie (pictured, right), Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young, Nani, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini etc is not a bad cast list.

They have form against Sunderland, too.

Eight wins from the last 10 against the Black Cats, plus the Stadium of Light scenes in May, 2012, which continue to rankle at Old Trafford.

The only time that Sunderland can theorise over a “good time to play Man United” is if they enter the international break with more than a solitary point to their tally.

But there is undoubtedly a glimmer of hope this weekend.

By their standards, United were wretched at both ends of the pitch against West Brom last weekend, yet it was the ease with which Stephane Sessegnon and Co cut through their defensive lines which Kevin Ball will be focusing on.

Although Fabio Borini is back – after the Italian was ineligible against parent club Liverpool – Ball is likely to persist with a five-man midfield.

He will hope that Jozy Altidore, Adam Johnson and Emanuele Giaccherini can run at United’s defence with purpose and test the dinted self-confidence in David Moyes’ back-line.

The return of Nemanja Vidic from injury should stiffen United’s resolve at the back, but it is the likely reunion of Rooney and van Persie up front which is the biggest threat for the Black Cats.

Van Persie was absent against West Brom, while Rooney missed the Champions League draw at Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek with a shin injury, but Moyes will surely pair his two principal strikers for a game United need to win to keep the vultures at bay.

Facing Sunderland prompts proven frontmen to salivate at the moment.

If Ball’s side are to have any hope, they must tighten up at the back.

For all Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are an exceptional combination – and the latter’s goal should have been ruled out last weekend – Sunderland gave them a large helping hand.

The harrowing tally of 12 goals conceded in four games provides the brutal message about why Sunderland find themselves propping up the Premier League table.

Understandably, Ball has looked to his seasoned old heads after taking the reins on a temporary basis.

But the lack of pace in the Carlos Cuellar-John O’Shea double act was exposed last weekend.

Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge must surely have come under consideration this week, as will Ondrej Celustka for a place at right-back.

Ball will know this could be his final team selection, with the international break providing the ideal time-out for Sunderland’s board to make a decision on the next permanent boss.

One point, or even three, would offer a huge boost to his own credentials.

But even if Sunderland turn elsewhere, it would be a welcome platform on which to build.

Verdict: Away win