The Black Cats are currently one point above their bitter rivals in 17th place heading into the final nine games of a Premier League season that looks set to go right down to the wire.
Rather than ease the pressure on his teammates ahead of Sunday's clash, Defoe has instead talked up the importance of claiming victory in the "massive game" at St James' Park.
"The rewards are so big," The Mirror quotes him as saying. "We want to be playing in the Premier League next season. Simple as that. Time is running out. There are not many games left and it is time we got winning.
"This is the game of the season. Even if we were not in this situation it would be. A derby, it means so much to the fans and the players. But it is really tight down there so it is a massive game.
"Whatever we do, we must be better than them. As a striker, be better than that defender, same in midfield. Run, tackle, do it better than them."
Defoe scored the winner against United last season to continue Sunderland's impressive recent record in this fixture.
Galatasaray defender Emmanuel Eboue attends a training session on the eve of the Champion's League football match Juventus vs Galatasaray on October 1, 2013