Sunderland are set to host Aston Villa in a bottom of the table battle later today.
The first game of 2016 for the two sides sees both teams looking to avoid getting stuck deeper into the relegation zone. Amazingly, neither side managed a win during the month of December, and both teams will be looking to reverse their miserable fortune heading into the New Year.
If the home side manage to take all three points then they will open up a seven point game between themselves and Villa.
It might be early days to make such predictions, but a Villa loss could well finalise what many see as their inevitable drop to the Championship. Villa will be playing their hearts out to avoid that from taking place.
Sunderland have been very leaky at the back this season and their defensive woes will be further added to by the absences of Younes Kaboul, John O Shea and Sebastian Coates. Wes Brown is a possible option to return but will undergo a thorough assessment to judge how he is getting on following his midweek comeback. Sunderland have racked up five straight losses in the Premier League, with their last win coming at the end of November against Stoke.
Admittedly, the five teams that beat Sunderland most recently, Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, Watford and Arsenal, are all very strong sides. A convincing win against Villa will be needed to put December behind them.
Tragically hopeless Aston Villa have managed only one Premier League victory all season.
Theoretically, Sunderland are perhaps one of the more beatable teams in the league, but few people would expect the visitors to pull off a result, particularly away from home. Sunderland’s struggles are added to by the absences of Jordan Ayew and Ashley Westwood, who both have to serve a one match ban for picking up five yellow cards so far this season.
A Sunderland win could see the team closing the gap on eighteenth place Newcastle to only two points, as Newcastle face a tough away test at Arsenal.
The Black Cats could well avoid the drop this season but they need to start putting together a string of results, fast.
Although this time of year is often unpredictable, Sunderland fans will see anything other than a comprehensive win as utterly unacceptable.
Three points on Saturday against Villa would be a massive morale boost to the whole team and would kickstart their aim for safety heading into 2016.