The Black Cats host champions elect from Old Trafford.
Alex Ferguson on Friday defended Rio Ferdinand over the Manchester United defender’s withdrawal from the England squad.
The centre-back has not played international football since 2011 but was called up by England coach Roy Hodgson for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro.
Ferdinand then pulled out, citing a detailed training schedule that manages his long-standing back problem and then controversially flew to Qatar to cover England’s match with San Marino as a television pundit.
The defender maintains that he still wants to play for England in the future but was the subject of abusive chanting from fans during Hodgson’s side’s 8-0 win over San Marino on Friday.
FIFA are investigating whether the chants directed at Ferdinand, and his brother Anton, had racist overtones.
United manager Ferguson, though, insisted that Ferdinand has handled the situation well and has no problem with the veteran taking long flights during the international break.
“I think he did the right thing in going back down and meeting Roy Hodgson and I encouraged him to do that myself,” Ferguson told a news conference.
“I thought he should go down and do it face to face with Roy and explain how we handle him and how he prepares for games. And that was the right thing to do. Roy appreciated that as far as I am aware.
“I only caught up on a couple of these things over the last couple of days and (flying to Doha) doesn’t bother me one bit. We shouldn’t get too bothered about it.
“They had they weekend off and players are entitled to do what they want to do.
They trained all last week and were given Friday, Saturday and Sunday off with the internationals being on, so he’s got his own choice in these things.”
Asked about the chants directed at Ferdinand, Ferguson added: “That’s modern society, I’m afraid. We see a lot of that, supporters’ reaction to many things and I don’t think we can change that. It’s the modern society we’re in.”
With the international break out of the way, Ferguson is set to utilise his squad as United return to domestic action with two games in the space of three days.
After they travel to Sunderland in the Premier League on Saturday, Ferguson’s men head to Chelsea for an FA Cup quarter-final replay on Monday.
Ferguson acknowledges there will be further fatigue following the international break.
“I don’t think we have any injuries from the internationals which is really good news but there’s a fair bit of tiredness,” he said.
“Hopefully we will have a good strong squad to approach the two games tomorrow and Monday.
“We’ll play a strong side against Sunderland and try to keep the momentum going on the run we’re in and if we do that Monday will take care of itself.”
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, whose side trail United by 15 points, finally conceded that Ferguson’s men have won the title on Thursday.
But the United manager is adamant that will not change his team’s attitude to their remaining matches.
“The approach has been right. We’re just trying to win the next game. It’s the only way we can approach it,” Ferguson said.
“We’re in an unusual position. We didn’t expect to have this kind of lead but we’ve got to take advantage of that and win our next game and that reduces the number of games left and we just have to whittle the games away and see where it takes us.”
United lost the title on goal difference last season despite a victory at Sunderland on the final day, but Ferguson insists that painful experience will help his team avoid a repeat.
“It happens, we move on and this year we’ve dusted ourselves down and made a real good challenge of the league,” he said.
“The concentration and commitment and team spirit has been excellent. So in that respect, we’ve answered the only way we can.”
Venue Stadium of Light, Saturday 12.45pm
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Last season Sunderland 0 Man Utd 1
Referee K Friend
This season’s matches 16 Y58, R1, 3.69 cards per game
Subs from Westwood, Mangane, Kilgallon, Larsson, Vaughan, Gardner, Wickham, Mandron, Noble
Doubtful Vaughan (groin), Sessègnon (groin)
Injured Cattermole (knee, Aug), Fletcher (ankle, Aug), Brown (knee, unknown), Cuéllar (ankle, unknown)
Form guide DLDLLL
Disciplinary record Y46 R0
Leading scorer Fletcher 11
Subs from De Gea, Johnstone, Evra, Welbeck, Powell, Young, Smalling,
Vidic, Ferdinand, Carrick, Cleverley, Kagawa, Rooney, Van Persie
Injured Fletcher (illness, season)
Form guide WWWWWW
Disciplinary record Y43 R0
Leading scorer Van Persie 19
Sunderland have only beaten United once in the Premier League in 23 attempts. That was a 2-1 win at Roker Park in
March 1997 – their first season in the Premier League.
The Blacks Cats have only earned four draws out of those 23 Premier League matches, with United winning 18 times.
They have only taken three points from the last 21 available.
Martin O’Neill’s side have gained just six points from losing positions this season – only Fulham (four points) have fared worse.
Danny Graham has gone 369 minutes without a league goal.
United have now gone 537 minutes in the Premier League without conceding a goal.
They have equalled the most ever victories after 29 matches of a top-flight season (24 wins), along with Tottenham in 1960-61 and Chelsea in 2005-06.
If they maintain their points-per-game ratio, they will break Chelsea’s record for most Premier League points (95 in
Wayne Rooney has been involved in 21 goals in as many Premier League appearances this term (12 goals, nine assists).