Preview by Chris Green and Planet Football
Fulham have a cosmopolitan brigade managed by Jean Tigana with players such as Edwin van der Sar, Steve Finnan, Rufus Brevett, John Collins, Steed Malbranque judged by Opta to be in the top 10 players in the Premiership.
His side have been impressive with the ball at their feet, hitting 78% of their passes accurately with just Man Utd and Arsenal doing any better.
Unfortunately their results have not matched their fluent play - mid-table is hardly terrible for a newly-promoted side, but everyone knows how the club's illustrious chairman sees the future of the club panning out.
Mr Al Fayed and Jean Tigana have raging against top-flight officials of late: "Over the course of the season, I have been disappointed with the standard of refereeing we have seen," Mr Al Fayed said recently , although he added, more constructively, "It is part of my vision, together with Jean and Christian (Damiano, assistant manager), that we work alongside the referees and governing bodies in British football to benefit everyone involved in the game."
Fulham are second in the Fair Play league with only one other Premiership club, Liverpool, committing less fouls and they are looking for more protection for their strikers. Louis Saha had his nose broken in their last game by a high dangerous kick just as he was shaping up to beat the last defender. The perpertrator got a yellow.
This North v South encounter should be a tasty meeting with both sides keen on winning the three points.
Fulham in particular are looking to boost their Euro hopes with a repeat of their 2-0 triumph over the Black Cats in August.
In terms of Sunderland, for all Derby's managerial upheaval, and Leicester's continual failure to pick up points, perhaps the side with the biggest 'crisis' at present in the Premiership are Sunderland, if the hype is to be believed.
Despite having taken the club from the lower reaches of the second division to two seventh-placed top-flight finishes, Peter Reid's job is apparently under threat at the moment, with the Black Cats currently on a miserable run of four games without a win including a disastrous cup exit at the hands of West Brom. Of course the fact that they are unbeaten at home in the league in six games has been conveniently forgotten.
The problem seems obvious to the players themselves, such as skipper Michael Gray: "The season has been topsy-turvy but it's not that we have become bad players overnight, we are just not playing with enough confidence." He's singing from the same song sheet as his boss. "We need to get our confidence and belief back," said Reid after their defeat to Everton last week.
A few more goals for Kevin Phillips would be one way to go about it. The England striker may well have put away seven so far during 2001-02, but his finishing has been far from spectacular - although he has taken a shot every 23 minutes on average, he has been waiting 283 minutes between celebrations.
Sunderland do have an advantage over the rest of the Premiership - their team have been such good boys that they are yet to experience the shame of a Premiership red card this term and remain the only side with an unblemished record. Unfortunately they have also chosen to shoot themselves in the foot three times - the highest own goal tally in the division.
MOST SIGNIFICANT STATS
Fulham's first League meeting with Sunderland in 14 years and first ever visit to the Stadium of Light is a mid table battle.
The Londoners have won their last two League and Cup games, while Sunderland have lost their last two, although they are unbeaten for three months in home League games.
This game could mark two notable milestones for the Black Cats' strike force. Kevin Phillips will be making his 250th club appearance and Niall Quinn, his 400th League appearance, if they play.
Total meetings: 41 - Sunderland wins 19 Fulham wins 11 Draws 11
HEAD TO HEAD NOTES
Fulham's first ever visit to the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland's first home League fixture with Fulham for 14 years.
The Wearsiders are aiming for a fourth successive home League win against the Cottagers.
Sunderland are unbeaten in six home League matches with the Londoners.
Fulham's only win at Sunderland in 14 visits spanning 38 years was 1-2 in the old Division Two, on 22 February, 1975 The Cottagers last victory in the top flight at Sunderland was 0-1 in the former First Division on 2 September, 1950.
Fulham are on course for their first League 'double' over the Wearsiders since the 1958/59 season - the only time they have achieved the feat against this club since they first met in 1949.
Current League position 12th 27 points 6 places and 6 points above the bottom 3
Best realistic scenario at final whistle Up 2 to 10th If win. [Sunderland will go up 3 to 9th if win by a massive seven clear goals]
Worst Scenario at final whistle Down 4 to 16th If lose, while Everton (away to Spurs), Blackburn (away to Man U), Southampton (away to Liverpool) and Bolton (away to Middlesbrough) all win.
LOST LAST 2 - 1 FAC, 1 Prem
NOT WON IN 4 - 3 Prem, 1 FAC [1 draw, 3 losses]
6 UNBEATEN HOME LEAGUE GAMES [3 wins, 3 draws]
GONE 4 GAMES SINCE A CLEAN SHEET
2 wins in last 6 League and Cup games
2 wins in last 7 Premiership matches
3 defeats in last 4
3 losses in last 6 League clashes
1 draw in last 7
2 draws in last 7 top division encounters
4 clean sheets in last 8 top flight duels
Failed to score 4 times in last 7 League outings
8 CLEAN SHEETS - all in Prem
FAILED TO SCORE 9 TIMES - all in Prem
PREMIERSHIP DOUBLES ACHIEVED - 1
PREMIERSHIP DOUBLES SUFFERED - 0
0 RED CARDS
EVER PRESENTS: 1 Kevin Phillips
Potential Career Milestones
If he plays, Kevin PHILLIPS will be making the 250th appearance of his club career
If involved, Niall QUINN will be making his 450th League appearance (excluding Play-Offs)
BLACK CATS NOTES
Last home Premiership defeat was 1-3 by Manchester United on 13 October, 2001.
Last clean sheet was the 3-0 win at Blackburn in the Premiership on Boxing Day, 26 December, 2001.
Current League position 9th 30 points 4 places and 9 points outside the top 5
Best Scenario at final whistle Up 2 to 7th If win, and Tottenham (home to Everton) do no better than draw
Worst Scenario at final whistle Down 1 to 10th But only if loss by seven clear goals
WON LAST 2 - 1 Prem, 1 FAC
UNBEATEN IN 4 - 2 Prem, 2 FAC [3 wins, 1 draw]
WON LAST 2 PREMIERSHIP GAMES
SCORED IN EACH OF LAST 5
Won 3 of last 4 League and Cup games
3 wins in last 7 Premiership matches
1 defeat in last 6 in all competitions
Just 2 losses in last 6 Premier League encounters
1 draw in last 5
4 draws in last 9 top flight clashes
6 clean sheets in last 9 top division duels
Failed to score 3 times in last 6 League outings
11 CLEAN SHEETS - 10 in Prem
FAILED TO SCORE 9 TIMES - all in Prem
PREMIERSHIP DOUBLES ACHIEVED - 0
PREMIERSHIP DOUBLES SUFFERED - 1
2 RED CARDS - all in Prem
EVER PRESENTS: 2 Steve Finnan, Steed Malbrangue STARTED EVERY GAME: 1 Steve Finnan
Potential Career Milestones: If he plays, Rufus BREVETT will be making the 400th League appearance of his career (excluding Play-Offs)
Last defeat was 2-3 at home to Manchester United in the Premiership on 30 December, 2001.
Last time failed to score was the goalless draw at home to Charlton in the Premiership on Boxing Day, 26 December, 2001.
Last time failed to score away, was the 4-0 defeat at Tottenham in the Premiership on 15 December, 2001.
One of two clubs to have kept most clean sheets in the Premiership this season - 10. The other is Leeds.
Completed more Premier League goalless draws than any other club - 5.
Caught offside 39 times and committed 243 fouls in Premiership matches this season - that's fewer than any other club on both counts, according to the FA Barclaycard information sheet.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE - PETER JONES Loughborough, Leicestershire