Sunderland welcome Stoke City to the fortress SoL this weekend where a win could potentially see the lads haul themselves out of the relegation zone should other results go our way. Who would have thought we’d be cheering for West Ham this weekend after their recent Jermain Defoe charm offensive?
Stoke come to Wearside in an interesting situation. Sitting in 11th place - 9 points clear of the relegation zone - many would assume that Stoke fans would be happy with their stability. That, however, is most definitely not the case. Fans are angry with recent performances, and Mark Hughes is facing mounting pressure from a club that have finished in 9th place for the last three seasons running - a mere pipe dream for us Mackems.
As duly noted by the press this week, Stoke have struggled to find a win in the North East since April of 1994, and in the Premier League era have notched a meager two goals in eight Premier League encounters in which Sunderland have won six and drawn two. Of course historical statistics really bring nothing to the table, but Sunderland should certainly look to this game with an eye on three points.
Stoke’s recent form will certainly give Moyes and co. something to be cheerful about. Comprehensive away defeats to Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea have highlighted Stoke’s poor defensive form on the road this season. Factor in that 11 goals were shipped in those games, and Moyes will be looking to Defoe and Januzaj to further compound Stoke’s away-day misery.
Couple Stoke’s poor away form with their recent FA Cup humbling at home to Wolves, and you can see why fans are starting to get a little nervous. Sunderland will be looking to this game with eager eyes, especially after a recent run of decent results at home.
In his pre-match press conference, Moyes was quick to point out that his team have made strides forward when playing on Wearside.
We've played a lot better at home and we look capable of getting results at the Stadium of Light.
Moyes then duly noted that the team will need to rely on the support of the fans in order to maintain their fight for Premier League survival.
We need our home form and we're going to need the supporters right behind us between now and the end of the season.
In order to gain anything from this weekend’s game, Sunderland will need to be careful in their game management. Despite performing below par this season, Stoke will be a difficult opposition who will certainly cause us problems should we fail to deal with their direct style of play.
Peter Crouch has found a new lease of life in the absence of Bony, Diouf and the injured Walters, scoring twice in his last two Premier League games for Stoke. Sunderland’s central defenders must nullify his aerial presence in order to undermine Stoke’s main goal threat.
That being said, Marko Arnautovic, Charlie Adam, Joe Allan and Xherdan Shaqiri can certainly cause problems for our fragile midfield, and whoever Moyes picks as his midfielders will need to put in a real shift in order to prevent Stoke from dictating play.
As already mentioned, Jermain Defoe is the obvious outlet for Sunderland’s attack, but Adnan Januzaj will also be a key man this weekend. Stoke’s physical defenders will have a field day should Sunderland revert to their ‘hoof ball to Jermain’ strategy, yet they may struggle to cope with Januzaj’s probing runs. If he can find time and space on the ball, and provide service in behind the lumbering Stoke defence, then Sunderland could well put the Potters to the sword.
You can make a relatively strong side with Sunderland’s current list of unavailable players: Pickford, McNair, Kone, Jones, Kirchhoff, Cattermole, Ndong, Khazri, Gooch, Watmore, Anichebe (Pienaar as a sub).
Billy Jones could make his return this weekend, but Moyes ruled out a return for Anichebe in his presser. The AFCON will further hinder our ability to field a full-strength squad.
Stoke are also missing several key players. Jonathan Walters needs surgery on a knee injury and is missing, so too is Bojan.
Phil Bardsley could make a return to his former hunting grounds as he and Marc Muniesa were back training this week. Wilfried Bony, Mame Biram Diouf, and Ramadan Sobhi are away at the AFCON and will not be available.
Predicted XI: Mannone, PVA, Djilobodji, Denayer, Jones, Larsson, Love, Rodwell, Borini, Defoe, Januzaj.
Score Prediction: If Moyes gets the best out of his players, then there is every chance we could come away with a vital 3 points. As already mentioned, Januzaj will be vital to anything positive this weekend - he must stand up and be counted. If the players underestimate Crouch and friends, however, Stoke could come away with a first Premier League win on Wearside. In reality, I can see both teams playing out a stale draw, especially if Sunderland are unable to effectively use Adnan Januzaj. I’m going for a grim 0-0.