As Manchester United’s form picks up, they will be reminded of what many still regard as their recent nadir on Boxing Day when David Moyes returns to Old Trafford for the first time since his failed stint as United boss in 2013-14.
Jose Mourinho has overseen four straight wins in all competitions for the first time since August, helping to close the gap behind fourth spot from 10 points to four, and a positive Christmas period could see them make further progress in that regard.
With big summer signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba finding peak form in the last few weeks and fellow new-boys Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan pushing for contention again, the Mourinho effect might finally be beginning to take hold.
MAN UTD INJURIES
Eric Bailly returned to training on Thursday having limped out of the recent victory at Crystal Palace and should be back in the 18 against Sunderland even if Mourinho decides to stick with in-form centre-backs Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones at the heart of the defence. Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be hoping to prove his fitness after his collision with Danny Rose against Tottenham Hotspur resulted in an ankle injury for the Armenian.
Chris Smalling is back in contention as well after returning from a toe injury in the dying moments of the 2-0 win at West Bromwich Albion last time out, while Luke Shaw is due back in the coming days. United remain one of the most well-stocked squads though, and Mourinho has insisted he will shuffle his pack somewhat over the busy days to come with Middlesbrough and West Ham United to tackle over the New Year weekend.
MAN UTD SUSPENSIONS
With the amnesty on yellow cards to come on December 31, United are in the privileged position of having no suspension issues. Not only do they have nobody unavailable, they are also free of players one card short of a ban for the Middlesbrough clash on New Year’s Eve.
Sunderland also have nobody missing due to suspension, but Adnan Januzaj is unavailable due to the terms of his loan deal from United. The Black Cats will be hoping Lynden Gooch, Billy Jones and Steven Pienaar steer clear of trouble since the trio could all miss the trip to Burnley if they are booked at Old Trafford.
MAN UTD POTENTIAL STARTING LINE-UP
While Mourinho has talked of rotating his squad over the festive period he may well be tempted to name an unchanged side to the one which beat West Brom last weekend. Having had a nine-day break ahead of Sunderland’s visit, the manager may decide that the short New Year turnaround between Middlesbrough’s visit and the trip to West Ham United requires more changes than the clash with David Moyes’ men.
That would mean another chance in the starting XI for club captain Wayne Rooney, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan eased back into action following his ankle injury and Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford kept in reserve once more.
Mourinho does have the luxury of Bailly and Smalling being fit again after having been his first-choice defensive pair earlier in the season but the recent form of Rojo and Jones could see the under-rated duo continue on Monday.