Di Canio hoping for happy Monday
Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has challenged his players to secure their Barclays Premier League status by winning a "Champions League final" at Aston Villa.
Victory at Villa Park on Monday night would establish a six-point gap between the Black Cats and the midlanders with three games of the campaign remaining and all but end their fears of the drop.
Di Canio said: "If we win on Monday, we stay up. I have told my players, Monday is a Champions League final. Since the first day we joined together at the beginning of the week, I told them, 'Take this week as the most important week of the season because if we win on Monday, we stay up and we do it three games in advance."
He continued: "'It's probably not mathematical, but we would be very close, so it means that you are capable'.
"I told my players, 'When I came in here, we were nearly strangled - you have turned the season in three games here. You did that, you were capable of winning two in a row.
"'If we win the next one, in three weeks, you have turned completely the season'."
Sunderland looked to be in dire trouble when Di Canio arrived at the Stadium of Light at the end of last month with trips to Chelsea and Newcastle to come ahead of bogey side Everton's visit to Wearside.
However, a narrow defeat at Stamford Bridge was followed by a stunning 3-0 victory at St James' Park, and a first win over the Toffees in 20 attempts in all competitions left the Black Cats looking upwards rather than over their shoulders.
The Italian said: "It doesn't mean that now we have become a Champions League side, but [victory at Villa would] mean that with three games to go, we could finish in a good position.
"Obviously, it's step by step, but I told them, 'Think about Monday as a Champions League final, work as hard as you did in the last few weeks because there is a big opportunity to stay in this league with three games to go. 'Enjoy the last three games and try to get the maximum points we can'."
Related Sunderland News