In what turned out to be Kevin Ball's last game as Interim Head Coach I tipped Ki Sung-Yueng as Sunderland's man to watch. Unfortunately, this prediction turned out to be wide of the mark as the South Korean was not involved in Craig Gardner's only goal of the game for the Black Cats and so gained just 2 points for playing past the hour mark. My tip for a neutral player to watch turned out to be even worse, fresh from being proclaimed my man to watch Hugo Lloris ended up conceding four goals against striker-less West Ham, one more than his entire total of goals conceded so far that season, and picked up just the solitary point.
In slightly less embarrassing news for myself, the players I tipped to avoid also turned in low-scoring performances. Adam Johnson, like Ki, picked up just the 2 points and was substituted just after the hour mark. Danny Gabbidon technically didn't disgrace himself as I predicted, but only via the medium of missing the game with a hamstring injury and so picking up 0 points.
So, with everyone back from the international break, and Sunderland ready to begin upon yet another new managerial reign, here are my tips for this week:
Sunderland Player To Watch: Craig Gardner
It feels like the players I pick for this are more often than not one of our two main summer recruits, Giaccherini or Altidore, but this week it's a Sunderland old (ish) boy I'm tipping for success. Craig Gardner has largely impressed on his return to central midfield, and he certainly seems the type of central midfielder far more likely to thrive in a 3 than in Sunderland's previously preferred midfield 2. Gus Poyet was well known to favour 4-3-3 at Brighton, with Brighton fans going so far as to say after he settled on the formation they never knew him to change from it, so it's incredibly likely that this is how the lads will line up on Saturday.
With on-loan Ki ineligible due to us facing his parent side Swansea, Sunderland's midfield will probably line up as Lee Cattermole, Craig Gardner and A.N. Other (Larsson, Vaughan, Cabral and even Giaccherini wouldn't particularly surprise me in this spot). I imagine the game will be a relatively tight affair, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was settled by a distance blast from Gardner.
General Player To Watch: Alvaro Negredo
Manchester City's form has been incredibly unpredictable thus far this season, with impressive victories at home over Newcastle and Manchester United being followed up by unbelievably weak away losses to Cardiff City and Aston Villa. Despite having an impressive selection of strikers to pick from, the pair that have clearly struck up a great relationship so far this season are Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo. With the Spaniard coming in a fair whack cheaper than his Argentinian strike-partner, he's the one I'd plump for. Even if it is Aguero that gets on the scoresheet, you wouldn't be surprised if it's the hard-work and bullish attitude of the Beast of Vallecas that sets him up.
Sunderland Player To Avoid: Modibo Diakite
I've generally thought that Diakite's performances have had more good in them than bad so far this season. His physical qualities are obvious to see and he (usually) manages to put them to good use. Even in the midst of a generally dire Sunderland performance away against West Brom, Diakite managed a few effective blocks and swept up the ball behind the defensive line whilst under pressure from attackers. However, on the flip side he has also found himself alarmingly easily turned a few times this season, and his lack of English means that on occasion he seems to have serious issues with communication - a fairly major issue for a centre-back. This could quite possibly be the reason why Kevin Ball declined to use the Frenchman during his spell as Interim Head Coach.
Gus Poyet emphasised at his first press conference that he won't be aiming to change everything at once (evolution, not revolution), and therefore I'd expect him to stick with skipper John O'Shea for at least the time being. Next to the Irishman I'd imagine the Uruguayan will fancy Diakite's fellow summer arrival Valentin Roberge, a more assured passer of the ball, to Modibo Diakite.
General Player To Avoid: Loic Remy
The on-loan French attacker has been on extremely impressive form so far this season for Newcastle, even earning himself a call back into the French national squad. However, the Mags' next game is a tricky test against one of the season's top-performers thus far in the shape of Liverpool. This fixture last season saw the barcodes memorably battered 6-0, and whilst I can't see a hammering of the same magnitude occurring I do think that Liverpool will come out on top. As impressive as Daniel Sturridge, and latterly Luis Suarez, have looked in their attack, their defence has also been extremely solid. In Kolo Toure, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho they have an enviable choice of centre-halves to pick from, and I wouldn't be surprised if they managed to stop Remy's goal-scoring run in its tracks.
The Roker Report League
A new name has leaped to the top of our league as an impressive week for Brian Murphy sees him notch up 70 points and gets him to first with 438 points overall. 11 points behind him Daniel Parker is still very much in the running with 427 points, and another 11 points behind him sit the rest of the pack with John Downing in third on 416, Gino Bawn fourth on 415, Chris Worthy tied on points with him and finally Jack Barker in sixth with 413 points. One player that is noticeably omnipresent in our top 6 is Daniel Sturridge, and with the Liverpool player playing well for England over the international break he looks set to continue to be a great pick for this week too.
Amongst the Roker Report writers there's been a rare change in order as I leap-frog Craig to end the week in 77th on 365 points. Craig's in 94th with 359, then Luke on 341 points in 144th. After that, there's a gap down to mid-table Dave in 275th with 301, before the tail-enders of Stephen on 285 in 313th and Simon, of course, bravely remaining the rearguard in 344th on 263 points.