Man Utd v Sunderland preview
United close to full strength, key players missing for Black Cats
Last Updated: 24/12/10 12:26pm
Bruce: Hoping to avoid late agony
Sunderland will be hoping to avoid late agony at Old Trafford for a third year in a row when Steve Bruce returns to former club Manchester United on Boxing Day.
Last minute goals have thwarted the Black Cats on their past two visits to United, with Anton Ferdinand's own goal last season forcing a 2-2 draw and, 12 months previously, Nemanja Vidic pounced at the death for a 1-0 win.
The Black Cats also have a terrible record against United, having not won at Old Trafford since 1968 and are also without three points in the previous 17 Premier League meetings.
However, their performances at Bruce's old stamping ground have generally been solid and Sunderland also claimed a 0-0 draw with United at the Stadium of Light earlier in the campaign.
Sir Alex Ferguson acknowledged his team were fortunate to escape with a point that day and will be wary of a Sunderland side that have already won 3-0 at reigning champions Chelsea.
Ferguson has challenged United to still be top of the table after the Christmas and New Year period, and will expect to improve a record of 13 wins from 16 Boxing Day games since the start of the Premier League.
Michael Owen could feature for United for the first time since being withdrawn at half-time of the stalemate at Sunderland in early October.
He is back to fitness after a hamstring problem and could earn a place on the bench as Ferguson ponders how to best use his squad over the busy period.
Dimitar Berbatov could earn a recall after being left out of the team which beat Arsenal 1-0 last time out, while Nemanja Vidic and Anderson are fit after a virus which would have ruled the duo out of last weekend's postponed trip to Chelsea.
Paul Scholes and John O'Shea are not expected to be available as the Red Devils look to preserve the only unbeaten record in England.
Sunderland boss Bruce will take a depleted squad to the scene of many a career highlight as he looks for a fourth successive clean sheet.
Bruce has been hit by problems in defence, with John Mensah joining Titus Bramble and Michael Turner on the sidelines.
It means last season's fall guy Ferdinand will likely partner Nedum Onuoha at centre-half, with Ahmed Elmohamady at right-back and former United defender Phil Bardsley on the left.
Another former United player - Kieran Richardson - will start in midfield, but Fraizer Campbell misses out against his old club due to a long-term injury.
Danny Welbeck is ineligible to face United due to the terms of his loan deal, so boyhood Red Devils fan Asamoah Gyan is likely to partner Darren Bent up front.
Lee Cattermole is suspended, so Steed Malbranque and Bolo Zenden look the obvious candidates to fill in for the captain and Welbeck.
Possible starting XIs:
Man Utd: Van der Sar, Rafael, R Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Nani, Fletcher, Anderson, Park, Rooney, Berbatov.
Sunderland: Gordon, Elmohamady, Onuoha, A Ferdinand, Bardsley, Malbranque, Henderson, Richardson, Zenden, Gyan, Bent.
Barclays Premier League
|6||West Ham United||12||18|
|13||West Bromwich Albion||12||13|
|20||Queens Park Rangers||12||8|