More Selection Headaches As Summer Business Continues To Bite Sunderland Where It Hurts
David Moyes has confirmed that Lee Cattermole, Steven Pienaar, Adnan Januzaj and Victor Anichebe will miss tomorrow’s home game against West Bromwich Albion.
I was going to describe it as a ‘must-win’ clash, but in truth that feels too ambitious for a Sunderland side who have won less than a quarter of their home games in the past five years.
‘Must not lose’ it is then, and with the absence of Januzaj and Anichebe our attacking options again look limited. In truth Januzaj does not feel like a miss, particularly if his lay-off provides Whabi Khazri with the opportunity to finally impress David Moyes.
Victor Anichebe is starting to look a desperate signing though. His fitness issues were well known, but a month into the season, with no showing bar four minutes, one pass and giving away two fouls against Crystal Palace, his late signing has heads being scratched. In fairness we’ll have to reserve judgement a while longer, at least until (or if ever) he’s fit.
The fact is, in the corresponding fixture last April, Sunderland’s midfield consisted of Jan Kirchhoff, Yann M’Vila, Lee Cattermole, Whabi Khazri and Fabio Borini. That game was a goalless draw, with no way of breaching West Brom’s goal to be found. Injuries have robbed Moyes of two of that five with Khazri also recently missing, confined to the bench so far this season.
If the disappointment of not re-signing M’Vila is an exhausted topic, it is the failure of the club to strengthen the toothless team which completed that match last season which sums up our plight. The addition of Didier Ndong aside, the absence of foresight to address the lack of possession and attacking threat in Sunderland's midfield looks grave. Another season solely reliant on Jermain Defoe for goals has to bite some time as autumn descends with October upon us tomorrow.
That said, the starting eleven are desperate for some freshening up, so options such as Paddy McNair, Lyndon Gooch and of course Whabi Khazri may be welcome.
Tomorrow’s match will be won, or drawn in three key battles. First, keeping an eye on Solomon Rondon for the full 90+ minutes; second preventing West Brom's midfield three, including James McClean, popping crosses in to our box at leisure as has been the case in recent games and thirdly, keeping hold of the ball and pressing possession further up the pitch to link up with Jermain Defoe.
We shouldn’t keep blaming the summer transfer business for autumn’s performances, but the proof of this misery was indeed in the summer pudding.
Pulis Ponders Moyes
Already many words have been written about why David Moyes’ start to life at Sunderland has been devoid of much to smile about. So, words of advice from Tony Pulis may ordinarily be a case of ‘in one and out the other’.
The West Brom boss took charge of his 1,000th game last weekend. Pulis has built a career on the twin facets of avoiding relegation by being hard to beat and stopping the opposition scoring. So Moyes may do well to consider aspects of his rival’s philosophy as he gears up for his first survival battle since his initial season at Everton fourteen years ago.
Speaking at his pre-match conference before the trip to Wearside, The Baggies’ boss said about the task which faces David Moyes at Sunderland:
You’ve got to spend a long time working out how you’re going to get results.
You’ve got to play to your player’s strengths, you’ve got to work a system out, that will enable that team to get points.
But, as with every other boss he has faced this season, Moyes received a vote of confidence from his opposite number in the dugout tomorrow:
I've a lot of respect for David and he's joined a club that has to fight and scrap and work hard to get the points that's needed to maintain Premier League status.
In truth, Pulis and West Brom have never quite fit. If the man himself is self-assured about his place at The Hawthorns, recently stating he would be happy to extend his contract, others are less enamored with the Welshman who will turn 59 in January.
There was a flurry of bets this week on Tony Pulis being the next top-flight manager to be sacked and he appears to enjoy an uneasy relationship with the board at West Brom. Baggies fans remain unconvinced by his abilities to continue their side's impressive Premier League consolidation, with the addition of a much needed smattering of entertainment along the way.
But, for David Moyes, leading Sunderland into their tenth successive year in the Premier League, with no such consolidation yet in sight, elements of the Pulis model are ripe for employment at his bottom of the table side.
Too much was made of zonal marking being the reason Christian Benteke was able to score that late winner last week. That master of defensive insight, Kevin Kilbane, blathered on about it on Match of the Day, then Benteke himself repeated the line on Sunday morning, and the Sunderland Echo spent all of Monday saying the same thing over and over again with four, count them – four, articles yapping on about the perils of Sunderland’s ‘zonal marking’ experiment. They really did miss the point.
The reason that Palace were gifted their winner was plain and it was simple – too many Sunderland players could not be bothered to lift themselves for one last effort to defend for a couple of minutes more.
Tony Pulis simply would not allow it. David Moyes – up on your feet.