A man of John O’Shea’s experience is vital in this kind of game, both from a leadership and organisational standpoint.
Despite being regularly criticised in some quarters, when this man is out of the side the Younes Kaboul/Sebastian Coates partnership has been catastrophic.
O’Shea has the innate ability to bring a sense of order to the back four, and ultimately this results in our other defenders looking much more comfortable both as individuals and a collective. He has played in this game enough now to know what it is all about, and that experience is going to be vital come Sunday lunchtime.
This Sunderland side has often been criticised for a lack of leaders – individuals who will stand up and be counted when the going gets tough. This has been evident in previous capitulations to teams like Southampton and Leicester, however our recent derby record is proof that our senior players have stood up during the biggest occasion of the season.
With this seasons defensive fragility as it is, O’Shea's performance both as an individual and defensive marshal will have a significant impact on Sunday’s team performance. When our captain has a bad day at the office, it often has shuddering consequences throughout the team. Sunday is a day when we need a real captain’s performance.
I wasn’t sure it was possible to love a midfield general nearly as much as Lee Cattermole, but this man is making me a believer.
Everything about Yann M’Vila signifies class, and his ability to excel in most facets of the game make him a huge, huge asset. Aside from his run out for the Under-21s we are also yet to see any of his detrimental disciplinary issues on the field, which needs to continue on Sunday.
Despite coming to the club with a ‘hot head’ reputation M’Vila has been a picture of calmness thus far, something which can be incredibly advantageous in a local derby as passionate as this one.
"Play the game, not the occasion" is a statement often thrown around before these kind of matches, and I think that runs true when you look at some of the determining factors in our recent successes against Newcastle.
In M’Vila we have someone that looks to be able to just excel at his job and lead by example, despite whatever is happening around him. The defensive screen of M’Vila and Lee Cattermole is going to be vitally important in trying to contain Newcastle’s attacking threats, and also in initiating attacks of our own.
If Yann M’Vila excels on Sunday he can be our point of difference, and everything about the player suggests he will relish his first taste of a Wear-Tyne derby.
After memorable goals in both the previous derbies Borini played during his 2013-14 loan spell, he knows exactly what winning this game means to all those in red and white.
It’s not just his finishing ability that make him so important for Sunday, the man’s work rate is absolutely unbelievable. He’ll chase lost causes, hassle defenders and run himself into the ground for the team – all of which have the ability to raise the noise level in the stands considerably.
With shifts in momentum continuous in this kind of game, it’s so important you convert your opportunities when your side has the ascendancy. In Borini we have someone that can be relied upon to thrive in this atmosphere, and ignite the crowd both from an attacking and defensive standpoint.
This game is made for him, and he is the kind of individual you want standing next to you prior to battle. In Gus Poyet’s first home game in charge Borini netted a memorable winner, to which I flew down into the next row at the Stadium of Light.
Let’s pray the little Italian can come up with something similar this Sunday, and we can all lose our heads again in the celebrations.