It seems like our club has become the go-to guys for a good old catastrophe story. Year after year we lurch from one crisis to the next, and unfortunately there appears to be no end in sight.
This weekend, however, affords the squad the opportunity to end the year on a high note. A win away to Burnley will allow the fans a brief foray into the world of joy and optimism, something we struggle to find whilst supporting our club in this current space of time.
Burnley, on the other hand, are an intriguing club. Relatively frugal in their financial dealings this summer, yet find themselves sitting at the turn of the year in 14th place - 6 points above the relegation zone. An impressive first half of the campaign, if truth be told, has led them to a position Sunderland fans would give an arm for.
Sean Dyche of course was heavily linked with Sunderland after the sacking of Dick Advocaat, and would most certainly have been our gaffer had Sam Allardyce passed on the opportunity to take the helm. Woulda, coulda, shoulda’s of course, yet Dyche has gained a lot of respect in the footballing world for his resilient, robust approach to managing the proverbial underdogs.
Both Sunderland and Sean Dyche will be looking to put what ifs and maybes aside this weekend when the two clubs clash at Turf Moor. Sunderland have the opportunity to end this cursed year of 2016 outside the relegation zone with a win, and other results going our way while Burnley have the opportunity to potentially climb into the dizzying heights of the top half of the table if they are able to overcome our injury-ravaged side. It’s all to play for.
Burnley have been imperious at home with 6 wins and a draw from their 10 Turf Moor fixtures thus far this season - only Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham have better home win ratios. Burnley will undoubtedly enter the game in a positive manner, fully expecting to take three points from the game.
With the likes of Tom Heaton, Michael Keane, Steven Defour, and Sam Vokes all playing well this season, Dyche’s men will have extra confidence going into this weekend’s crunch fixture. Sunderland, however, must remain steadfast in their tactical approach if they are to gain anything from this weekend’s crucial match.
With risk of sounding like a broken record, Sunderland will once again look to the triumvirate of Anichebe, Defoe and Van Aanholt as they look to find precious points in Lancashire. Will Burnley’s defence be able to cope with the power of Anichebe, the poise of Defoe and the pace of PVA? Perhaps not, yet this is becoming an all too obvious tactic that Sean Dyche will undoubtedly have prepared to nullify. Sunderland must utilize other areas of the team in order to ensure they don’t become a one-trick pony.
Aiming to expose George Boyd’s lack of athleticism should be a key area in which Sunderland focus their attention. Should Adnan Januzaj start in the floating role he adopted against Watford, there is every opportunity that his skill and dribbling skills could prove to be a thorn in the Claret’s side. Should Boyd be dropped in favour of Johann Gudmundsson, Sunderland must put their speedsters against the Icelandic winger who has just returned from a hamstring injury.
Sunderland’s defence must also be wary of the Burnley attack, with Andre Gray, Sam Vokes and Ashley Barnes all impressing so far this season. Any combination of the aforementioned trio must be dealt with by Kone, Djilibodji and co. because the Burnley front line have the ability to put Sunderland’s error-laden defending to the sword.
Burnley could be without the impressive Jeff Hendrick and industrious Den Marney via suspension and injury respectively; Denayer, Ndong and their third midfield accomplice must look to stamp their authority on the game should they come up against a makeshift Burnley midfield.
Matt Lowton should be available for this weekend’s game, but Joey Barton won't feature as he has yet to officially sign for the Clarets.
Unfortunately, Sunderland have yet another serious injury to add to their seemingly never-ending list as Jordan Pickford is set for a spell on the sidelines.
Speaking about the youngster's injury, David Moyes said:
Jordan has good news and bad news. The good news is he hasn't ruptured his ACL; the bad news is he's strained it. We're looking at six to eight weeks. It's a major disappointment for him and for us because he's been saving us points.
Moyes did however note that Vito Mannone is a more than capable replacement, though Sunderland will certainly miss Pickford’s distribution and phenomenal shot-stopping capabilities.
No other injuries have been reported, as Moyes’ threadbare squad take the relatively short journey to the North West of England this weekend in search of vital points against a team many feel will be involved in the relegation battle at some point this season.
Is This a Must Win?
Who knows, for Sunderland seem to have a knack of pulling points from the most impossible of situations. However, looking ahead to our upcoming fixtures, one could argue that three points this weekend is a much needed shot to the arm in order to enhance our chances of survival.
Liverpool and Stoke are next to the Stadium of light whilst a mid-January match away to West Brom follows hot on their heels. All teams are in good form, and it would certainly take an impressive level of performance in order to find some points from those aforementioned matches.
Three points this weekend would go a long way to helping the cause should be struggle in the new year’s opening fixtures.
Predicted XI: Mannone, PVA, Djilobodji, Kone, Jones, Denayer, Januzaj, Ndong, Borini, Anichebe, Defoe.
Score Prediction: I’m going for a spirited 2-2 draw, though I can see us potentially sneaking a win should Moyes get his tactics spot on.