Gav - Don't Start Him!
Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge admirer of Wahbi Khazri. He's technically very good and all things considered, he's a more well-rounded attacking midfielder than probably any other player that we have. In particular, we've missed his set pieces in the opening few games.
But, that said, I don't think I'd be starting him on Monday night against Everton.
One thing that Sunderland have lacked in the first few weeks of the season is structure, consistency and organisation within our starting eleven and the international break has afforded David Moyes some time to reflect and work upon things on the training ground that, in truth, he really hasn't been able to do since he arrived at the club due to injuries and lack of incoming players.
Due to no fault of his own, Khazri hasn't been at the Academy working with the rest of the squad because he has been away on international duty. It's probably worth me noting that Wahbi played excellently for Tunisia in their game against Liberia - he scored one and set up another as Les Aigles de Carthage secured the win that they needed to qualify for January's tournament in Gabon. We know that Wahbi has struggled for fitness since returning back this summer and, taking into account the fact that he's barely played for us so far this season, him getting some minutes under his belt will probably do him some good.
You can pretty much pick Sunderland's midfield and attack from the players that have remained on Wearside over the last week or so whilst Khazri has been away. Jan Kirchhoff has been back in full training for over a week now and this will have allowed Moyes to work on his game plan for Everton with the players that will almost certainly start the match.
So, for that reason, I'm pretty happy for Khazri not to start the game.
I'm not claiming to be privy to any information, I just think that considering Khazri has been away on international duty whilst the rest of the players have stayed on Wearside it makes more sense for us to play a team and shape that we've worked on extensively over the last week or so, especially considering how patched up we were in the opening few games. Jack Rodwell and Jan Kirchhoff will almost certainly play in the middle, with Steven Pienaar ahead of them. Lynden Gooch and Adnan Januzaj will likely be out wide with Jermain Defoe up front.
Making ourselves hard to beat is probably the most important thing that Sunderland can do against Everton and, in my opinion, I feel we need to play Steven Pienaar in this game if we are to stand any chance of winning. He retains possession of the ball fantastically and that is going to be crucial if we are to beat what will be an incredibly strong and organised Everton team. Khazri's ball retention, however, leaves little to be desired.
With a lack of characters and experience in our side, someone like Pienaar might be the difference between us winning and losing a game like this and for that reason he starts for me.
Similarly, Lynden Gooch has done nothing to warrant losing his place in the side and with Kirchhoff returning from injury it now means that he can return to his favoured role on the left wing where he played perhaps his best football so far this season away at Manchester City.
Going forward I feel that Moyes one hundred percent has to make Wahbi Khazri an integral part of his side, but I feel that despite us not actually playing until Monday that this game might come a little too soon for him.
Rory - Start Him!
What's going on with Wahbi then? Unexpectedly not in the starting line up away at Manchester City and, bar a start in the League Cup, he's only featured from the bench since. Is he just not ready to start games yet?
Well, he was one of the latest back to pre season so maybe he's not as up to speed as David Moyes would like.
There was also speculation that Moyes just didn't fancy him and that he'd leave before the window closed. As we know, that didn't happen and the talismanic Tunsian will continue to ply his trade on Wearside. With his tantalising delivery from set pieces, mind bending trickery and sheer audacity, which was best showcased at home to Chelsea last season, he has to start against Everton.
Who should drop out though? There's only two real possibilities, either Lynden Gooch or Steven Pienaar. Personally, I'd let Pienaar sit out the game against his former club as it would allow Khazri to play in his preferred number 10 role. You'd be forgiven for not knowing that he isn't really a winger, given his performances there last season, but the central area is where Khazri is more comfortable. This is a great chance for him to start of run of games there and perhaps put in even more devastating displays than the ones we saw in the second half of last season.
People may argue that Pienaar's ability to keep hold of the ball is something we can't sacrifice but Khazri's low centre of gravity gives him the ability to hold onto the ball even when faced with the likes of, oh let's say, Ashley Williams? You'd get a similar range of lovely passing from the former Bordeaux man and with Jan Kirchhoff set to return to the midfield, ball retention isn't something you'd have to worry about.
Work rate is a valid worry, Khazri probably wouldn't sit as deep as Pienaar but he certainly didn't shirk his defensive duties in the previous campaign. He worked his proverbials off to help out Patrick van Aanholt last season and it saw them strike up a nice partnership. Operating through the middle is, of course, an entirely different prospect but we've seen the evidence that Khazri will dig in when required.
Also, have you seen our set pieces lately?! Let me rephrase that - Have you seen Adnan Januzaj's set pieces lately?! Patrick van Aanholt whipped in some good balls against Southampton but Khazri, he get's you excited for a corner in the same way that Stoke fans do when Rory Delap takes throw in. Get him whipping those balls back onto the bonce of Kone and repeat what we did to The Toffee's back in May.
Not only would Khazri in the middle give us extra attacking bite but it would allow Lynden Gooch to play further wide, his natural position. Just this one inclusion into the starting eleven will give the team a better balance, as well as added experience and quality. Steven Pienaar wasn't signed to play every week, it's time to bring Wahbi Khazri back in.
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