Wayne Rooney missed three days of training and a high-profile book signing session this week after being floored by a virus, but a ravenous appetite for revenge ensures that the Manchester United forward will be fit to face Sunderland today.
"When the fixtures come out, I look for three games – City, Liverpool and Everton," Rooney admitted in his recently published autobiography 'My Decade in the Premier League'. "This time I checked the Sunderland game. If there is one team I want to beat this season it will be Sunderland."
While an encounter with Martin O'Neill's strugglers would ordinarily be greeted with a shrug of the shoulders by Rooney, memories of the final day of last season remain fresh and painful. For that was when Sunderland fans reacted to Manchester City's injury-time title victory by taunting United at the Stadium of Light with pro-City chants and a rendition of the 'Poznan' – the backs-to-the-pitch – celebration performed in the blue half of Manchester.
"When the final whistle went, we didn't really know what the score at City was," Rooney said at the time. "But then we heard the Sunderland fans cheering. It was sad to see that because they should be supporting their own team.
"They didn't have the best of seasons so for them to be cheering like that was sad.
"It was something myself and a lot of the players won't forget."
United forward Danny Welbeck, who spent a season on loan at Sunderland, recalls how Alex Ferguson spoke individually to the club's youngsters on the way back from the 1-0 win on Wearside, insisting to them that "this will make some of you into men and be the best you can be".
Seven months on United have bounced back from the disappointment of losing out on last season's title by opening up a six-point lead over City at the top of the table.
Should City lose at Newcastle this lunchtime, United could stretch their lead to nine points with a win at Old Trafford. But while his players may regard today's game as payback time for Sunderland, Ferguson insists it should not be viewed as a revenge mission.
"I don't think revenge will come into it," Ferguson said. "Winning the game is more important and, given the impetus from last week's victory at City, hopefully that will be a deciding factor. It's time for us to make sure we maintain the lead at the top of the league. You have to get over the hurt of last season, you can't allow disappointment to last forever. You have to get over it quickly and I think we have done.
"We're top of the league. Winning games and regaining the league is the best way to respond to anything."
Ferguson does, however, admit to being surprised by the reaction of the home fans last May.
"It's fans isn't it? I don't think it was malicious, they were just enjoying the moment. I don't think it was anything against Manchester United."
Sunderland manager O'Neill insists, however, that Ferguson was irked by the goading of players at the end of last season's fixture.
"I know Alex took umbrage at our fans celebrating City's goals," O'Neill said.
"But I think if it had been the other way round and we were playing City on that day and United won it, they would have behaved in the same way.
"A roar went up from the Sunderland supporters and straight away we knew City had equalised. When the second roar went up, it was incredible really."
Ferguson, who revealed that captain Nemanja Vidic is fit to play after almost three months out with a knee injury, says the onus is on City to close the gap. "It's their challenge to try to catch us," Ferguson said.
"Six points isn't such a healthy lead. We threw away a lead against Arsenal in 1998. If we can keep all our players fit, it gives us a chance."
He added: "We've got to get through this Christmas programme. If we're still top of the league after it, we'll be delighted." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Manchester United v Sunderland
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