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Sunderland Must Keep Playing To Their Strengths Against Leicester

After three games where they've looked much improved, Sunderland must keep to their more direct, counter attacking game plan as they host Leicester City. It’s the start of a run of games where The Lads can really make a strong case for survival and prove they're not out of the relegation fight just yet.

Sunderland v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

I'm shocked at how positive I felt after the defeat to Liverpool. Positivity in any way shape or form seemed impossible back in October, so to still feel up beat after watching the lads lose seems unthinkable.

But, we're now finally seeing a team that looks like they have a plan and are giving everything they can to their supporters and the manager. If nothing else, we now have a feint sense of hope.

We have to keep that up against Leicester and that means sticking to what we're good at - conceding possession and looking to break quickly. It's coincidental that we should look to play in that style against The Foxes when you consider that was the system they used to shock everyone last season on their way to winning the title. That doubles the importance of why we shouldn't look to play possession football, as it will give Leicester the opportunity to hurt us on the break. David Moyes may want us to play a possession based game eventually, but that needs to be put on hold for now.

When you're near the bottom and need to pick up points wherever you can, it's vital you play to your strengths. Our recent talisman has, of course, been Victor Anichebe with his hold up play giving the team a new dimension. It has allowed Jermain Defoe the opportunity pick up the ball in deeper positions and run at defenders, something like he looked especially dangerous doing against Hull City. It was that running from deep that saw him bamboozle the Hull defence and claim his 150th Premier League goal but he wasn't the only beneficiary of Anichebe's presence.

The full backs - Patrick van Aanholt and Billy Jones - were able to get forward and attack the space created by the forwards, giving extra bite and support to the attack. Jones has looked born again this season and Van Aanholt excels when receiving the ball just inside the final third. It's no coincidence they've looked improved playing in a more directly minded side.

The back four was at its most cohesive on Saturday and I don’t see why Moyes would want to change that. Some may have worries about John O'Shea's pace against a quick Leicester City team but how often does he leave himself in the situation where he could be beaten in a foot race? O'Shea's positional sense and reading of the game make sure it never comes down to running alongside someone like Jamie Vardy. It's that same level experience that also brings out the best in Lamine Kone, who had his best game in a while against Liverpool. The Ivorian centre half was making interceptions and breaking up Liverpool's play, something he doesn't have as much license to do when alongside Papy Djilobodji, given he is quite fond of a rash challenge. It's clear that Kone is more suited to being the player who puts his foot in and marauds out from the back, rather than being the organiser.

The most intriguing question in the starting line up is the middle though. With Sebastian Larsson and Jan Kirchhoff coming back to full fitness, we actually have something resembling a selection dilemma. Being the closest the full fitness, our beautiful blue-eyed Swede could be in line for a start. It couldn't come at a better time either, since Larsson will chase everything down when out of possession and will get things moving quickly when we regain it. His style of play perfectly suits what the team has been doing well lately.

Jason Denayer doesn't deserve to lose his midfield role, so it would have to be Steven Pienaar or Didier Ndong who misses out. Ideally, I'd look at taking both out, but for different reasons. I thought Ndong had his best game for us against Liverpool, as he won tackles and ran himself into the ground. I'm even willing to overlook the penalty he gave away at the end of the game, as that's not something he'd do at a much more crucial moment and his overall display was too good to let it be condensed into just one moment. But since he's young, come into a new league, is learning a new language and playing in a struggling team, it would be good to take him out of the firing line for a game or two.

Pienaar, however, struggled against Liverpool and didn't look too comfortable playing in the middle playing that kind of system. If Kirchhoff is up to speed, I'd bring him in. We won't lose anything from having the ex-Everton winger on the bench because Kirchhoff gives us a more varied range of passing and can actually make a tackle, something Moyes himself has admitted that Pienaar can't do. A midfield of Kirchhoff, Larsson and Denayer sounds good to me - It's a one that will press the opposition, make tackles and not be sloppy in possession, while still taking risks.

A win will put us only two points behind Leicester. Regardless of what other teams do this weekend, that means we're right back in the fight and have a chance of doing another jailbreak. It will certainly be tougher than our last home game but if we keep playing with an identity and showing the same levels of commitment, the supporters will continue to back David Moyes and the team. The last three games have proved that Sunderland actually do have something about them and since our bad start means we can't afford too many slip ups, they need to continue playing to their strengths

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