Manchester United effectively confirmed Sunderland’s relegation from the English Premier League on Sunday, beating the struggling club 3-0 to leave the Black Cats rooted at the bottom of the table.
United manager made a number of changes to his starting XI, replacing David de Gea with Sergio Romero in goal and Matteo Darmian came in place of Antonio Valencia at right back. But it was Maruoane Fellaini being handed the captain’s armband that raised a few eyebrows when the lineups were announced, with the Belgian an unpopular figure among the United faithful.
The hosts had not won a game since February and former Manchester United manager David Moyes, now managing the Black Cats, sent out his strongest possible XI with Jermain Defoe starting at the tip of a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Mourinho’s side, as expected, dominated proceedings from the first minute itself, but it was the hosts who fashioned the first chance of the game. Lee Cattermole let loose a venomous shot from distance, but luckily for United, the ball went straight to Romero who held on to it very well.
It was left to United’s talisman, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to break the deadlock and the Swede did it in typically astounding fashion. Receiving Ander Herrera’s pass on the edge of the box with his back to the goal, the striker turned and sent in a low, curling shot that flew into the bottom corner in the 30th minute.
The away side looked unable to build on their advantage after it, but were handed a major boost when referee Craig Pawson sent off Sebastian Larsson for a high challenge on Herrera a minute before half time. While the challenge was definitely high, perhaps a yellow would have been just rather than a straight red.
Sunderland had just begun to create a few chances but Larsson’s dismissal put the fight out of them and United utilised their man advantage by doubling their lead in the 46th minute via a Henrikh Mkhitaryan strike. The Armenian was not closed down fast enough inside the box and his left-footed finish beat Jordan Pickford from a narrow angle.
Substitute Marcus Rashford then got his first league goal since September, finishing well in the 89th minute after Ibrahimovic had set him up to apply gloss to the scoreline.
United remained in 5th place with 57 points, four behind 4th-placed Manchester City, who have played an extra game.
For Sunderland, the league table does not make for easy viewing as they are 20th, with 17th placed Hull a considerable 10 points ahead of them. While Moyes’ men have played a game less, the gap seems to be too much at this late stage of the season and relegation to the Championship is something the club should brace themselves for.