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Roker Ramble: Sunderland’s search for a starting XI

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In this weeks editorial James Holmes looks at Dick’s search for his strongest starting XI.

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With the season well and truly underway it doesn't take a genius to see that we’ve struggled to settle; the all too familiar collapses that we went through last season have reared their ugly head as we still search for the first win of the season.

As the transfer window ‘slammed’ shut on September 1st, the squad looked much improved. Going forward we now have pace and energy in Borini and Lens, while Ola Toivonen looks an astute signing and one that seems to fit the system. Defensively on the other hand, we look shambolic at times, with only one recognised Left-Back and inconsistent centre half's this has already become a real concern for Dick.

Improved performances against Villa, Swansea and Spurs gave us cause for optimism, particularly in the latter. Then we travel to Bournemouth, and in typical Sunderland style we’re 2-0 down within 9 minutes and its all but game-over. The solid XI that played against Spurs started far too slowly and made Bournemouth look like Bayern Munich. An easy home tie to Man City followed and we found ourselves 0-4 down going into half time.

Where does this leave Dick in his search for his starting XI? With so many under performing "stars"  not many players are guaranteed a place in his XI come Saturday afternoon.

Goalkeeper

Options - Costel Pantillimon, Vito Mannone, Jordan Pickford

Costel Pantilimon has conceded 13 goals in his first 6 games this season, whilst this is one of the worst in the English Football, it would be hard to single out Costel as the weak link in the defensive unit. In addition, Vito Manone’s performance against Manchester City on Tuesday was woeful meaning Costel will likely keep his spot all season.

Defence

Options - John O’Shea, Younes Kaboul, Sebastian Coates, Wes Brown, Billy Jones, Patrick Van Aanholt, Adam Matthews, DeAndre Yedlin, Jack Rodwell

This is where the majority of our concerns lie. O’Shea, Brown and Kabul are no spring chickens and clearly showing their age whether this be regarding pace or concentration. Whilst Sebastian Coates looks completely out of sorts, his fantastic form at the back end of last season now a distant memory. Dick spoke this week about the possibility of Rodwell playing at Centre Half:

Advocaat told the Sunderland Echo: "It was something I thought about last season when he was not in the team."

"In principle, he is a centre-half in origin. He is good in the air, he has got two good feet.

"Football-wise and passing-wise, he is what I am looking for in terms of giving the ball to his team-mates.

"We have too many players who just kick the ball away.

"That was why I was so keen to get (summer transfer target, Nicolas) Lombaerts who can start things off at the back."

We certainly do need to find a place for the £10m man, and considering his inconsistent form in centre midfield, he could add some much needed quality to the back four.

Patrick Van Aanholt……where do we start, he hasn’t had the best of starts to the season being at fault for what seems like 80% of the goals we concede, but being the only recognised left back in the squad he will likely keep his place. DeAndre Yedlin was a small positive from the game on Tuesday night and should be ahead of the very limited Billy Jones.

For now the return of Kaboul looks most likely for the trip to Old Trafford, if he can repeat his performance against Spurs then he looks a solid stopper.

Midfield

Options - Yann M’Villa, Lee Cattermole, Jack Rodwell, Jordi Gomez, Ola Toivonen, Seb Larsson,

Firstly, Yann M'Vila is an instant starter. The Frenchman has proven to be a very impressive piece of business, comfortably becoming our best player.

The other two empty spots are more challenging, Lee Cattermole has struggled for form so far this season, but some fans have been quick to forget how integral the combative midfielder has been in the past two seasons. Jack Rodwell continues to be an enigma, at 6ft 2 he does not impose himself on the game half as much as he should. Jordi Gomez is an interesting one; much improved under Dick, he offers more quality on the ball than Catts or Rodwell, but often slows the game and plays at one pace.

Ola Toivonen has made a positive start to his Sunderland career and offers us something a bit different as he brings others into the game. Due to our defensive frailties, when Toivonen is picked the other two in the middle should be more defensively minded. Seb Larsson signed a new contract in the summer, but it seems he has agreed to play a more of a bit part than in reason years. Lets not forget the energy and work rate he brings to the side, and for me is a much better off the bench to help sure up the game.

Front Three

Options - Jeremain Lens, Fabio Borini, Adam Johnson, Duncan Watmore, Jermain Defoe, Steven Fletcher, Danny Graham, Ola Toivennen

Jeremain Lens has had a mixed start to his Sunderland career, he is clearly one of our most talented players but has struggled in the past few weeks. He can also leave PVA exposed at times as his work rate is not up there with the likes of Borini.

With Borini finally a Sunderland player again he is, as with M’Vila, an instant starter. Fabio offers a phenomenal work rate and attitude. Not just that but has the quality to put the ball in the net. Jermain Defoe started the season reasonably well but in the past few games has looked like he couldn't finish his dinner. For this reason Fabio should stay through the middle for the foreseeable future.

With Borini playing through the middle this only really leaves the fit again Adam Johnson to play on the other wing. There is no doubting the talent Adam possesses but his mental state given recent events can’t be 100%. Duncan Watmore offers a really good option off the bench and Dick’s reluctance to use him at times has been frustrating. I think i speak for the majority of Sunderland fans when i say we’d love to see more of young Duncan.

After looking at the options we have it’s clear that finding the balance will be integral to keeping us up. See below for my view on our strongest XI:

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