Manchester United v Sunderland: Three key areas for Dick Advocaat to cause an upset

Fabio Borini goes for goal against Manchester City
Fabio Borini goes for goal against Manchester City
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Winless and stricken at the bottom of the Premier League table, few will give Sunderland a prayer of coming away with a positive result at Manchester United tomorrow.

But what must Sunderland do to stand a hope of boosting their pitiful points tally at Old Trafford? Here are three key areas for the Black Cats.

1. Practise basic defending... until half-time at least

From the opening exchanges of this campaign, Sunderland have been undone by their defensive vulnerability and their inability to resist spells of pressure.

But individual clangers have been the core of the problem – more at Bournemouth last weekend and again against Manchester City in the Capital One Cup, to render all Sunderland’s attacking promise redundant.

Sunderland’s hopes of getting anything have generally been undone by half-time too, with 17 of the 20 goals conceded in the opening eight games coming during the first 45 minutes.

Dick Advocaat’s side need to frustrate Man United and create some grumbling among supporters, who are still not entirely convinced that Louis van Gaal’s men are sufficiently expansive.

But if Sunderland’s habits continue and they concede early, then they are forced to chase an encounter against a United side who can counter with a rich array of attacking talent. That’s not an appealing prospect.

2. Maintain the attacking promise

The defensive blunders have hamstrung Sunderland, yet they shouldn’t necessarily mask the encouraging signs Advocaat’s men have shown going forwards.

Sunderland look far more fluid and threatening than the stodgy build-up play from 12 months ago. There has just been little platform to show whether that can win games.

But in Jeremain Lens, Adam Johnson and Fabio Borini, there are threats on the counter-attack, with the latter a decent bet to lead the line again, rather than Jermain Defoe.

If Sunderland simply sit back and invite pressure, United will find the breakthrough against a back-line which is yet to show it has the confidence or resilience to keep a clean sheet.

Sunderland have to threaten an upset, at least.

3. Ensure Anthony Martial’s fairytale start doesn’t continue

The £40-odd million splashed out on largely unknown teenager Martial suddenly doesn’t look such a ludicrous outlay after the Frenchman’s four goals in his first four games for Man United.

With Wayne Rooney fit-again, Martial is likely to be among Louis van Gaal’s cast of substitutes tomorrow.

But if Sunderland can hold out that long, then Martial is a game-changer on the bench and one bursting with the confidence of youth.