Aston Villa-Sunderland Preview
There's nothing gleaming at the Stadium of Light for Sunderland. Things may only get darker there for Aston Villa.
In Saturday's matchup of the two clubs that define futility in the Premier League, the Black Cats go for their first win in over a month while Villa's search has reached a fifth.
Sunderland's 12 points at the midway point are only better than Aston Villa's eight, making both clubs favourites for relegation.
Their downright pathetic play is another reason they seem destined for the drop.
Sunderland (3-3-13) have been outscored 12-3 while losing five straight matches, falling 1-0 at home to Liverpool on Wednesday.
"Everything's just gone against us," manager Sam Allardyce said. "We're just going to have to keep trying to change our look ourselves and the way we can do that is to continue to believe in ourselves. In the end, make our own luck by providing the right sort of quality in front of the opposition goal to score."
There's been little quality - if any - out of Villa (1-5-13) since beating Bournemouth 1-0 in the first matchday Aug. 8. They've gone a club-record 18 games without a victory after losing 2-0 at Norwich City on Monday.
The Villans are 11 points off safety, putting their status as one of seven teams to never be relegated in the Premier League era in serious jeopardy.
Still, manager Remi Garde is optimistic Aston Villa can recover - a feat never accomplished when having fewer than 10 points after 19 matches.
"I am still thinking the victory will come soon and that will change the mood of the changing room and the players too," Garde told the team's official website. "I am very focused on what I have to do. I know it's getting difficult but there are still 19 games to play and 57 points to win.
"There are still enough to reach the target. Yes it is getting tougher. But I am still optimistic."
There's little reason for Garde's optimism with the Villans scoring a league-low 15 goals, while being held to one or none in 15 games. However, they're unbeaten in their last nine meetings (4-5-0) with the Black Cats, drawing 2-all at Villa Park on Aug. 29.
Villa have also won three straight at Sunderland, including a 4-0 thrashing March 14.
Brad Guzan has been a lightning rod for criticism all season, and he's dealt with constant reports that he'll be supplanted as first choice in the January transfer window. The American goalkeeper has started all 19 league matches, giving up a league-worst 34 goals while the 93 shots on target he's faced are second only to Sunderland's Costel Pantilimon (102).
Guzan should be on the teamsheet Saturday, and he'll try to continue frustrating Jermain Defoe. The forward leads Sunderland with seven goals in all competitions, but three came in a League Cup victory over League Two side Exeter City on Aug. 25. He's scored twice in 12 games since, failing to do so in each of his last four.
Fabio Borini's only two goals this season have come over the past three games, including a consolation tally in a 4-1 loss at Manchester City on Boxing Day. He had a goal for Liverpool in a 2-0 win over Villa on Jan. 17.