London: Manchester United can draw level with champions Chelsea before the Premier League leaders even kick-off if they win away to Sunderland on Saturday.
Victory for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side against a team managed by United old boy Steve Bruce would see the Red Devils join Chelsea on 15 points.
And that would give the Blues something else to think about before their London derby against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, even though they would likely still be on top, such is their vastly superior goal difference.
But a United win at the Stadium of Light is anything but assured.
So far this season, Ferguson’s men have drawn each of their three away games in the Premier League, losing leads at Fulham and Everton and having to fight back to earn a point at Bolton.
“A lot has been made about us not keeping clean sheets but I haven’t seen us get opened up to make it a real crisis,” said United centre-half Rio Ferdinand, fit following a knee injury.
“We have been a little unfortunate and unlucky in certain circumstances, maybe even naive at points, but we haven’t been opened up in a manner that would make it a massive problem.”
United go into this match on the back of a 1-0 Champions League win away to Valencia, which suggests they are getting over their travel sickness.
But Bruce reckons Sunderland’s supporters can put a side of even United’s class and experience off their game.
“With the crowd behind us, it can be like an extra man,” Bruce said.
Chelsea and Arsenal both head into their eagerly awaited clash following Champions League wins over Marseille and Partizan Belgrade respectively.
Those successes came after both clubs suffered domestic reverses, Chelsea losing to Manchester City and Arsenal, more surprisingly, to West Brom.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was confident his side could carry their European form into the Premier League.
“For us it was important to win straight away after a big disappointment against West Brom.
“It puts us in a good position confidence-wise, Sunday is a big, big game for us.”
Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti is expected to be in the Blues dug-out despite having to attend his father’s funeral in Italy on Saturday.
Tottenham, also enjoying life in the Champions League after a midweek 4-1 win at home to Dutch club FC Twente, welcome an Aston Villa side rejuvenated by the arrival of French manager Gerard Houllier at White Hart Lane on Saturday.
Everton may be in a “false position” according to their Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta but the fact remains they are bottom of the table and are the only team in the Premier League without a win so far this season.
The Merseysiders face a tricky trip to Birmingham as they look to rid themselves of that unwanted record while Stoke face Blackburn, West Brom play Bolton and Wigan take on Wolves.
Blackpool, the surprise package of this season’s Premier League, will fancy their chances of causing fresh embarrassment to a Liverpool side that has won just once in the league so far this season when they make the short journey to Anfield on Sunday.
Liverpool’s goalless draw away to Utrecht in the Europa League on Thursday did not exactly suggest better days were around the corner.
Manchester City, who battled back to draw 1-1 against Juventus in European football’s second tier competition, are at home to Newcastle.
Fixtures (1400GMT unless stated):
Birmingham v Everton, Stoke v Blackburn, Sunderland v Manchester United, Tottenham v Aston Villa, West Brom v Bolton, West Ham v Fulham, Wigan v Wolves (1145GMT)
Chelsea v Arsenal (1400GMT), Liverpool v Blackpool (1400GMT), Manchester City v Newcastle (1230GMT)