A FIVE-STEP guide as to how Sunderland should approach their semi-final second leg against Manchester United when they travel to Old Trafford.
5. Fans, make an atmosphere
Despite the fact that it’s the largest club stadium in the country, Old Trafford is renowned for not having the greatest atmosphere in the world and the general consensus is that the home fans don’t tend to make that much noise.
In complete contrast, Sunderland have one of the best atmospheres in the league. The Sunderland fans can win the tie for their team. Whilst the United fans have been shell shocked by their stuttering start to the season and the indifferent performances on the pitch, Sunderland are at last finding their feet under Gus Poyet’s guidance. The fans are excited again and the football is improving game by game.
There is no better feeling, as a player, than being pushed through a tough match by the fans and likewise, there is no better feeling than seeing your team battle through a tough match knowing you sang your heart out for them. The travelling fans will definitely play a key role in the tie and need to make themselves heard.
4. Old Trafford is not a ground to be scared of
In seasons gone by, going to Old Trafford has been a challenge in itself, let alone going there for a semi-final second leg after you’ve frustrated them by sealing your first win against them since 2000 in the first leg.
Having dropped points at home to the likes of Swansea, Cardiff and West Brom this season, why not Sunderland too? They are travelling to a ground where United haven’t had their usual dominance that we’ve seen in previous years, the hosts having looked distinctly uncomfortable playing at home all season.
How long since we have seen so many United fans streaming for the exit at so many matches before we even reach ‘Fergie’ time? If the Black Cats can maintain their lead, then the United faithful will once again be heading off home for an early night while Sunderland can stay and enjoy the atmosphere of booking their first trip to a cup final since the 1992 FA Cup final.
3. Exploit their poor defence
So far this season, United have conceded 24 goals in 21 fixtures, which suggests they are having plenty of issues defensively. With rumours that Patrice Evra and centre back Nemanja Vidic are both set for moves away from Old Trafford in the near future, it might have to get worse before it gets better for David Moyes’s defence.
This is an area that Sunderland should look to exploit with the likes of ex-City man Adam Johnson who will be full of confidence after netting three against Fulham this week. Then there is the man who gave them their lead in the first leg. Loanee Fabio Borini could also play a big part in the second leg with the ability and skill to change the game in an instant.
2. Don’t sit back and try to defend their first leg lead
By setting a high work rate and high tempo from the first whistle, Sunderland will avoid going into the game with the mindset of trying to protect their slim first leg lead. Too many teams have made this mistake before.
Starting the match looking to defend such a slim advantage will simply invite United to lay siege to the Sunderland goal for the whole 90 minutes, which even against the mediocre United team we have seen this season would be a recipe for disaster.
After working so hard to gain the upper-hand in the first leg and matching United across the whole pitch, Sunderland know they can press high, force mistakes and maybe even sneak a goal of their own.
1. Give them no time in midfield
One of the few consistent performers in the below par Manchester United side this season has been 18-year-old winger Adnan Januzaj.
Despite only playing 15 first team games so far, starting just nine, he is proving to be one of the future stars of the game. Combine this young, confident winger with the experience of Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick and they are able to turn defence into attack in an instant.
The key for Sunderland in this department is to press and harass United’s midfield into making mistakes, something this whole United team have done all season so far.
•This article was written by FTBpro’s Dan Getliff
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