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SAFC NewsWipe: Pickford On Man Utd 'Plan'; Merson Was Right On Ndong But No News On Gabon

In today's NewsWipe: Jordan Pickford says Sunderland will show no fear at Old Trafford on Boxing Day; and there's no news from Gabon still on whether Didier Ndong will be called up for the Africa Cup of Nations, a fact which reveals the state of football in the country hosting the tournament. But has the midfielder proved Paul Merson right?

Pickford - We Have A Plan For Old Trafford, And We're Sticking To It

Sunderland talisman, Jordan Pickford, says his team will not fear a resurgent Manchester United on Boxing Day.

David Moyes returns to Old Trafford for the first time since his sacking 18 months ago and his team face the new year in a brighter position than they might have been with three wins in their last five.

For their part, Manchester United have begun to find their feet under Jose Mourinho and are unbeaten in their last ten.

And Pickford could be forgiven for helping himself to an extra slice of turkey on Christmas Day as the Sunderland stopper will be a key man for the tricky fixture.

The 22-year-old told Sky Sports:

We are going up against some top, top, players. We have got to go there and show we don't fear them.

We have to stick to our game plan, keep a clean sheet, and then anything can happen.

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

Pickford, who has made some incredibly important saves this term to earn Sunderland much needed points, has made various pundits' 'teams of the season so far' in their half-term Premier League assessments.

With A Match In Six Days Time, No Word On Ndong Recall

With the Africa Cup of Nations kicking off in less than three week's time, various nations are putting together their final preparations and naming provisional squads - not so for the hosts, Gabon.

There remains a slim chance that Didier Ndong will not even be selected for the Africa Cup of Nations. After he was sent home from the Gabonese squad for a World Cup qualifying fixture in November, no word has ever emerged officially to suggest the 22-year-old Sunderland midfielder will be welcomed back into the international fold.

Swansea City v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

No surprise there - Gabonese football supporters, already exasperated by the state of football in the African tournament's host nation, are now growing concerned that with the first warm-up game a week today, no squad either provisional or otherwise has been released by the Gabon football federation.

Indeed, it was only Monday that the country's sports minister announced that stadia for the tournament were officially "ready". The car parking and actual pitches still require a little work, however.

Paul Merson - He Knows His Stuff

And, after a difficult start to the season Didier Ndong was widely panned by pundits and certain sections of the media and, indeed, elements of the Sunderland support.

A 'record signing' tag is never an easy one to live up to - for any footballer, at any club. But, being the most expensive signing in history of a club with no money, who rarely spend 'big big', was a huge ask for a 22-year-old African fresh from the French league.

And he did struggle, there is no doubt about that. But, if Didier Ndong has grown into the English Premier League, it may have surprised a few people when Sky Sports pundit, Paul Merson, had this to say about the midfielder's suspension for the Chelsea match last week:

Didier Ndong will be a miss for Sunderland through suspension as he is the engine in their team.

And so it was that Sunderland's two games in four days last week proved Merson's point perfectly. Didier Ndong still has his moments - some of his passing and decision-making, particularly during key moments of play can be lacking - but his energy and workrate off the ball in particular add another dimension to Sunderland's oh-so-static central midfield.

Ndong proved his value with a lively showing on the pitch against Watford on Saturday, but our midfield were woefully cumbersome without him three days previously up against Chelsea.

And with Jan Kirchhoff and Lee Cattermole sidelined, the Sunderland record-signing showed signs of developing a fruitful partnership with loanee Jason Denayer.

Both men have bags of energy and with some continued development around their individual 'game-management', the prospects for our dismal central midfield look brighter as we go into 2017. After all, it is but a couple of months since Jack Rodwell was lost in there.

It really would be no bad thing if Gabon do indeed fail to call-up Didier Ndong for ACON2017.

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