Sunderland lost 3-1 away to Man Utd on Boxing Day where an admittedly spirited performance unfortunately resulted in few clean-cut attacks and an eventual late capitulation. Borini's dreamy consolation goal at least gave the travelling fans something to cheer about.
With neither a Boxing Day nor a New Year's Day fixture at home, the Christmas period is perhaps even more daunting for Sunderland, who started the day still floundering in the bottom three.
Man Utd is a reasonably accessible away game, and on a day when dragging yourself out of bed can prove difficult, there are far worse stadiums to travel to than Old Trafford. With Utd fans still sore about those Poznan celebrations a couple of years back, coupled with the Capital One Cup semi-final defeat, the fixture is a little spicier than your average Premier League fixture; for them anyway.
Pickford Jones, Djilobodji, Kone, PvA Denayer, NDong, Larsson Borini, Defoe, Anichebe
Moyes seems confident to have found the backbone of his side in a fixed back four, with Denayer and NDong in midfield. While the jury is still out on NDong given his price tag and role in the side, it's clear that our third man in midfield is where we're suffering a detriment. While Larsson has been fantastic for SAFC over the years, we need a more attacking presence to level out our midfield.
Anichebe looked hungry in the opening stages and appeared to be getting the better of the home side before going down clutching his shoulder. Defoe's strike from 20 yards couldn't beat De Gea, while a PvA free kick forced the Spanish keeper into a save at full stretch.
The Sunderland attack looked threatening; Defoe a constant threat, with Anichebe's strength and Borini's pace also a worry for United.
While United weren't particularly dangerous, Paul Pogba was dominant in midfield and made Larsson and NDong look sub-standard in comparison.
United broke the deadlock thanks to a strike from Daley Blind that crept through a crowd of bodies and into the net. Not a particularly well-worked goal, but a punishment for Sunderland after allowing United to have too much of the ball in the final third.
While we were 1-0 down at half-time, the game was still open and Sunderland were more than capable of the kind of scrappy goal that United produced to take the lead.
United emerged for the second half with a renewed vigour and piled the pressure on Sunderland in the opening stages. Ibrahimovic should have made it 2-0 after 52 minutes but somewhat embarrassingly fluffed his lines in front of goal. Djilobodji then pulled off a superb tackle to prevent the Swedish attacker from breaking clean through on goal.
United were enjoying more prominent chances and it took two excellent stops from Pickford to keep Sunderland in the game, who rarely threatened United outside of set pieces.
A popular article this week explained how Zlatan very nearly joined Sunderland under Peter Reid, an age-old fantasy scenario, and typically the gigantic forward doubled United's lead in the 81st minute, capitalising on a poor error from NDong on the half-way line.
Just a few minutes later, Henrik Mkhitaryan powered home an ambitious effort to make it 3-0. The goal looked more than a little bit offside, but the ref didn't see it that way. Perhaps if it was the second goal, the decision would have been far more controversial, but Sunderland already looked beaten by that point.
Fabio Borini gave the travelling Sunderland fans something to cheer about after an impressive consolation goal, looping the ball over De Gea to deprive him of the clean sheet.
Not a great performance or scoreline for Sunderland, but encouraging in patches nonetheless. The next fixture is Burnley away and is one that we need to pick up points from in order to start creeping up the table.
Final Score: Man Utd 3-1 Sunderland
ALS Man of the Match: Jordan Pickford
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