The Roker Reporters Ponder Gus' Big Wembley Decisions

Jamie McDonald

Two up front? Pack the midfield? Sacrifice the flanks? Gus Poyet is not short of options when he picks the side for the Capital One Cup final, but what would you do? We asked our writers for their opinions.

Michael Graham:

My XI (4-1-3-2): Vito Mannone; Phil Bardsley, John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Marcos Alonso; Lee Cattermole; Seb Larsson, Ki Sung-Yueng, Adam Johnson; Emanuele Giaccherini, Fabio Borini

Because: Primarily I worry about a lone forward becoming far too isolated on the massive Wembley pitch. We've seen it a bit too often anyway but the bigger the pitch the greater the problem and I think we'd really struggle to get out of our own half.

The pitch plays a big part in the midfield selection too. There will be space and loads of it and there is nothing we can do about that, but we can decide which space we want to surrender. For me, that space should be the flanks simply because I fancy our chances of heading away crosses more than I fancy our chances of competing man-for-man through the middle.

So I'd like to see us pack the middle a little like we did against Southampton recently. Three central midfielders ahead of Lee Cattermole. I think you could pop a luxury player like Johnson into that three without too much worry.

Up front, I don't think it's really worth trying to lure Vincent Kompany into a physical battle with a player like Jozy Altidore. He is too well-equipped for him and it plays into his hands. I'd rather get a couple of more elusive players who will try to get him running towards his own goal instead.

Oh, and Larsson? Purely because I think we may well need to make the very most of our set-pieces on the day!

Simon Walsh

My XI (4-3-3/4-5-1): Vito Mannone; Phil Bardsley, John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Marcos Alonso; Lee Cattermole, Ki Sung-Yeung, Jack Colback; Adam Johnson, Jozy Altidore, Fabio Borini

Because: Well the back five pick themselves really, so there's no need to go into too much explanation there. Wes Brown should and will come in for Santiago Vergini.

The midfield is something of a conundrum though. There's cases to be made for Giaccherni, Larsson and Colback.

For me it's Ginger Jack though. He's more settled into the midfield and he's far from a terrible option. He'll work hard and hustle and harry the Manchester City midfield. I can't see Giaccherini doing that while Larsson will likely be just pointing at others to do it.

Up front it's equally as much of a problem. Do we leave out the non-scoring Jozy Altidore in favour of Fabio Borini or a barely fit Steven Fletcher? I don't.

I can see Michael's point on why Kompany would have Altidore in his back pocket, and he likely will again. However I think he'd be able to physically dominate Borini out of the game. Altidore doing the donkey-work could open doors for Borini and Johnson.

If any of those who have question marks aren't performing though, there's options available from the bench to provide some further threat and/or quality.

Craig Clark

My XI (4-3-3): Mannone; Bardsley, O'Shea, Brown, Alonso; Larsson, Cattermole, Ki; Johnson, Borini, Giaccherini

Because: I think Poyet's substitution of Altidore at half time last weekend was telling. Although he wasn't the worst performer on the pitch, his removal saw Sunderland return to the more fluid front three used the previous weekend against Southampton in the FA Cup. Given Poyet's recent comments on Altidore and his remarks on shaking things up, I can see him abandoning the use of a "target man" and turning to a more fluid, mobile front three.

The one change I'd implement from the starting three utilised against Southampton is an obvious one; Johnson in for the not yet fully fit Scocco. Giaccherini meanwhile, has played his way into the team in the last couple of games. His fine strike against Arsenal was merely a consolation, but capped a couple of very encouraging individual performances from the Italian.

Since his derby heroics, Jack Colback has seemingly done everything in his power to prove it was a one off performance from him. He's not really turned up in the last couple of games. Larsson on other hand, came on and had a real impact against Arsenal and up until very recently was starting the majority of games. He's also been magnificent in fixtures against Manchester City of late. Like Michael, I also think he can contribute from set pieces, providing an alternative to Johnson having to take everything.

Other than that, the team pretty much picks itself. Cattermole will screen the back four, the full backs will look to get forward - if we can get a hold of the ball - while Brown simply has to return after suspension.

Andy Tomlinson

My XI (4-1-4-1): Vito Mannone; Phil Bardsley, John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Marcos Alonso; Lee Cattermole; Adam Johnson, Ki Sung-Yueng, Jack Colback, Fabio Borini; Jozy Altidore.

Because: Our best two performances of late, winning 4-1 at Fulham and 3-0 at Newcastle, have both come with this formation and pretty much the same line-up, with only Fletcher for Altidore at Fulham and Bridcutt for Cattermole at Newcastle. I don't see a good reason to change that system, particularly as we have been much better away from the Stadium of Light (the defeat against Arsenal notwithstanding).

Against most teams and occasions I wouldn't have a problem with Fabio Borini, Fletcher, Nacho Scocco or even Connor Wickham starting up front considering the lack of goals from Altidore but Borini has not started as the lone striker under Poyet and this isn't the game to change that, Fletcher has only just returned from injury, Scocco is stil searching for match sharpness and although I would like to see Wickham more involved, he's clearly not going to start.

What we need to be successful on Sunday is for the Altidore that terrorised the Newcastle defence and linked up so well with his team-mates to turn up. He will obviously face a much harder task than he did during the derby win at the 03 Arena but if that Altidore does show up, he will be our best option on the day and will do the donkey work that allows Johnson, Ki, Colback and Borini to run off him.

Elsewhere, Emanuele Giaccherini should count himself unlucky not to start after his last two performances but against a powerful City side, he is better suited to influencing the game off the bench and arguments could be made for Gardner and Larsson but I think Cattermole, Colback and Ki is by far our best choice central midfield on the day.

Nick Holden

My XI (4-3-3): Vito Mannone; Phil Bardsley, John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Marcos Alonso; Lee Cattermole, Ki Sung-Yueng, Jack Colback; Adam Johnson, Jozy Altidore, Fabio Borini.

Because: Santiago Vergini's performances during Brown's suspension have been a bit of a mixed bag. He was excellent against Southampton, but managed to hand Giroud an easy goal at the Emirates. With that in mind there can be no real debate about whether Brown should go straight back into the defence - brainfades against Norwich and Hull aside, he's been brilliant this year and alongside John O'Shea he shut down Manchester City's attack back at the Stadium earlier in the season.

Gus has already confirmed that Lee Cattermole is a definite starter in place of the ineligible Liam Bridcutt, and it seems certain that he will start at the base of Sunderland's midfield in front of the centre-backs. Although it was Ki who started there in our home win over City, the South Korean will be needed further up the pitch to provide attacking influence.

I've also gone for Colback ahead of Seb Larsson. Colback's man of the match turn against Newcastle has been, in truth, one of his few noteworthy games of late - but that's at least one stunning performance more than Larsson has provided. Whilst his set pieces could well be missed, he just doesn't provide enough in the middle against a pair as formidable as Yaya Toure and Fernandinho.

I can certainly see the arguments in favour of mixing it up in attack with the addition of Emanuele Giaccherini following a pair of good performances, and Poyet is certainly never shy about changing things up, but personally I'd stick with the side that has usually been our most effective. Let's be honest, we're likely to be defending for a large portion of the game and although it's not his preferred style of play, Altidore should at least be able to provide a target up front if we need a quick route out of defence and he can occupy City's centre-backs. As well as that, as the Newcastle game illustrated, the American can be extremely effective at linking play during quick counter-attacks - which you can't help but feel will be crucial if we're to get ourselves a goal.

Gareth Barker

My XI (4-3-3/4-2-3-1): Vito Mannone; Phil Bardsley, John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Marcos Alonso; Lee Cattermole, Ki Sung-Yueng, Sebastian Larsson; Adam Johnson, Emanuele Giaccherini, Fabio Borini.

Because: Well, Wes Brown must come back in. He and O'Shea have been very, very good together under Gus Poyet and deserve to play in the final. Santiago Vergini could have put some pressure on Wes, but he hardly covered himself in glory against Arsenal. In spite of that, I think Vergini will come good. But this isn't his day. The rest of the back five pick themselves. Mannone and Bardsley have epitomised the cup run. I really hope that one of this can play a big part in any potential success.

The middle of the park is really an agonising one. Seb or Jack? I've gone for Larsson. I just think he is so experienced on the big stage and can perform an disciplined and unspectacular job for us on the day. It's what he does best in the big games when charged with the responsibility, in my opinion. If Colback got the nod then I wouldn't be disappointed at all. He's been very good at times recently. But I just think Seb will bring the discipline required in a game of this magnitude.

Adam Johnson has to retain his place. But it might be time to end the Jozy Altidore experiment. I like Jozy, but it's not working for him really. Fabio Borini has been excellent and has probably earned a chance to have a go through the middle. His movement could cause bother among the shaky City back line. Then, the forgotten man, Emanuele Giaccherini. He looks full of confidence and buoyed by his goal on Saturday, I'd like to see him form part of a dynamic front three. He's another player suited to the big occasion and I think he could be a bit of a wild card for us. This is all too soon for Steven Fletcher for me. I'd even consider leaving him out all together with Nacho Scocco and Jozy Altidore on the bench.

The key battle could be Lee Cattermole against Yaya Toure, though. I'd like to see Lee rattle him early doors, in the nicest possible way. This would give Ki the time and space he likes to dictate. I don't think we will be necessarily defensive. But we won't want to be surrendering the ball easily. The slow, passive build up and looking to get the full backs into narrow channels is definitely my favoured approach here. Absorb the pressure on the 18 yard line, take the 2nd and 3rd balls and build confidently. If we go open, we'll get served. They love playing against open sides.

Having a go doesn't mean 4-4-2 or playing open and irresponsibly to me. It means utilising your best possible game plan and qualities. I hope the latter is enforced. I have little doubt otherwise under Gus Poyet, though.

Chris Weatherspoon

My XI (4-1-4-1): Vito Mannone; Phil Bardsley, John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Marcos Alonso; Lee Cattermole; Adam Johnson, Ki Sung-Yueng, Seb Larsson, Fabio Borini; Jozy Altidore.

Because: The back five picks itself. It's genuinely that simple. Wes Brown can't not play (sorry for the double negative), while the other four are all shoe-ins for their respective roles. Indeed, the same goes for the selection of Lee Cattermole. With no Liam Bridcutt to compete for the deep-lying position in midfield, the former captain is the only available choice (that is not to say that he is not worthy of it, mind you).

The more selection dilemmas come further upfield. Ki Sung-Yeung's inclusion is guaranteed, though there is ambiguity over how high he will be deployed by Poyet. Far greater ambiguity surrounds who is picked as the third central midfielder. As mad as it seems, especially given that I don't particularly rate him, I'd opt for Seb Larsson over Jack Colback. The reason? Sunderland can expect to spend long swathes of time without the ball and, for all his flaws, Larsson is a good organiser. We mock his constant pointing and shouting but, in truth, it might be just what is needed in this game.

The next big question surrounds who will lead the line up front. In a perfect world, I'd opt for Fabio Borini over Jozy Altidore. Borini's movement is better and his goal threat greater. The problem is that this would likely leave Emanuele Giaccherini and Adam Johnson as the two wingers, neither of whom are likely to offer great defensive cover. As a result, I'd stick with Borini on the wing - his work rate is superb - and hope Altidore puts in a performance similar to that at St James Park earlier this month. That way, with Borini willing to chip in defensively, Johnson would be able to play higher up on the opposing wing - and we've all seen just how good he can be when that is the case.

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