PAOLO DI CANIO has told Sunderland’s players that they must approach Monday’s relegation showdown at Aston Villa like it is the Champions League final.
Victory at Villa Park next week would take Sunderland to 40 points, traditionally seen as the tally required to avoid the drop in the Premier League.
Di Canio believes 40 will be sufficient for the Black Cats to retain their top flight status and says that should provide his players with a huge incentive when they face fourth bottom Villa.
“If we win Monday, we stay up,” said Di Canio.
“I’ve told my players, Monday is a Champions League final.
“This week is the most important week of the season because if we win Monday, we stay up with three games in advance.
“Probably not mathematically, but we stay up.
“It doesn’t mean we’ll become a Champions League side, but it means with three games to go, we can finish in a good position.
“If they work as hard as they have done in the last few weeks, there is an enormous opportunity to enjoy the last three games and get the maximum points they can.”
Meanwhile, Di Canio has confirmed that striker Connor Wickham will remain sidelined for the clash against Paul Lambert’s side.
Wickham has missed Sunderland’s last two games with a calf problem and is still on the treatment table.
“Connor’s still out, he’s improving with his injury, but he’s still out,” added Di Canio.