Northampton are boosted by the return of Ben Foden and Dylan Hartley from injury tonight but Jim Mallinder expects a tough test from a Sale side buoyed by John Mitchell's arrival.
Former New Zealand coach Mitchell has returned for a second stint with the Sharks as the club look to revive their fortunes after a nightmare start to the season that has left them bottom of the Aviva Premiership table and facing a battle to avoid relegation.
Northampton's win against London Welsh last weekend ended a run of three straight league defeats and moved the Saints back into the top four.
And their hopes of pushing on have been enhanced as full-back Foden and hooker Hartley make their comebacks after missing England's autumn campaign through ankle and knee injuries respectively
But Mallinder is wary that the arrival of a new director of rugby will see a much-improved performance from Sale tonight.
"Sale have been getting some disappointing results this season and we're expecting them to be very motivated for this game, especially with the return of John Mitchell to the club," he said.
"They have talented players who will no doubt be looking to prove a point, and after having won their last three home matches in all competitions they have developed a winning habit in Salford over the past month.
"We know we will have a big job on our hands, but all our focus this week has been on getting a good result on Friday night.
"This season the Aviva Premiership is more competitive than ever and every point matters. We have had two wins in the past two weeks and now we want to build on that."
Friday's other fixture sees leaders Harlequins host Worcester at The Stoop.
Quins have James Johnston and Maurie Fa'asavalu back from international duty with Samoa, while their compatriot David Lemi is in the Worcester side.
The Warriors also hand a first appearance to Scotland prop Euan Murray.
The defending Premiership champions will be without their England contingent, but Worcester boss Richard Hill knows his men still face a stern examination.
He said: "We'll have to go in with very specific tactics and they will be missing some of their key players. But they've got strength in depth and you don't win an Aviva Premiership title with 15 players so we know the size of the challenge. It is one we are looking forward to facing."
Saturday's action sees Leicester host Bath at Welford Road while the two Exiles clash at the Kassam Stadium as London Welsh face London Irish.
Wasps travel to Exeter in the Saturday teatime fixture while Saracens host Gloucester on Sunday.
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