RF: How are fans rating Claude Puel now that we're a bit closer to the end of the season? It's been a bit of an inconsistent campaign - which currently has you 13th in the table - but you have a League Cup final to look forward to, so Puel does seem to be keeping things positive at the club.
F: You're right, it's been inconsistent, and honestly fans are increasingly becoming fed up of Claude Puel. A combination of flat performances, inconsistency and rotation has made fans tired of him.
I am not saying he isn't right for the club, because I believe he is right for the club in the long term. Besides the League Cup final there isn't much positivity around the club at the moment but, having said that, he was always going to have a difficult first season in England. With four competitions to compete in it was always going to be difficult to replicate the success of the last few seasons, improving year on year.
At the start of the season if you were to offer any Saints fan a cup final and a mid-table finish in league we would have bitten your hand off.
RF: The Europa League is always a tricky one for clubs to manage, given the sheer amount of fixtures that you play. Was the failure to make it past the group stage of the Europa League met with much disappointment from the fans, or was the difficulty of the competition acknowledged?
F: It was always going to be tough. We've played the most amount of games out of all the teams in the Premier League and it has taken it's toll on the squad. The team has been stretched to its limit and the manager has been forced to rotate, which is why we haven't been able to build any momentum.
The Europa League in particular was disappointing to exit at the first stage - we went from the elation of winning against Inter Milan, to a bitter defeat away at Hull. It was the manner that we exited the competition that was most disappointing - we were unable to score any goals away from home, which would have been the only souvenir that the fans wanted to take back with them. Ultimately it was our away performances and a reserve team squad playing for many of the games that was the reason why we were eliminated early.
RF: One thing that has me slightly confident, going into the game, is your issue at centre half following the sale of Jose Fonte, and an ankle injury which has ruled out Virgil van Dijk. Is that a fair shout?
F: It would be fair to say a percentage of fans are worried about our centre-back situation. We've been left disappointed that Les Reed has not recruited and that the management has not brought a new centre half in, despite Reed promising he'd only let Fonte go if there was an immediate replacement.
To be fair to Maya Yoshida he has done well this season and has looked faultless compared to the last campaign, where we expected an error every game. Jack Stephens has had a baptism of fire - it was sink or swim for him.
Luckily for Jack he is swimming, but a lot of us want more experience and proven quality at centre half.
RF: We touched on the fact that you're off to Wembley soon, in the same final we were in three years ago - I still get misty eyed thinking about the day, even though we lost! Do you reckon you'll go one better than us and beat a Manchester-based team in the final?
F: We're due a cup final win! Our only major trophy to date was the 1976 FA Cup against this year's opponents, Manchester United. We're relishing the trip to Wembley as it's unlikely we will reach another major final any time soon, so tickets are selling like hot cakes in a bakery.
I'd say we're going into the game as underdogs again, but there is an argument too that we could have the advantage over United. After Saturday's match we have two weeks off until our next game, which is the final. United have to play four fixtures in between the time and a punishing Europa League tie midweek before the final. Our players should be fresher and even more motivated than usual because we'd be preparing for this for two weeks solid.
RF: New signing Manolo Gabbiadini scored on his debut and will be looking to add to that at the Stadium of Light. Is he the main threat facing Sunderland or is there anyone else in a nice run of form who we should keep an eye on?
F: It was a wonderful way to open his account - we weren’t expecting him to hit it so sweetly. Besides Gabbiadini you've got to look at Shane Long. Shane has been on the receiving end of the much disliked rotation policy and despite scoring he'll often find himself on the bench.
Why rest players who are in form?! We're baffled as to why Puel keeps doing this. Shane Long has been back in form in recent weeks after going on his longest ever drought without scoring. He's a player that gives everything, chases everything, is tireless and can be a real figurehead when counter attacking with his pace and ability to run beyond the last man.
Oriol Romeu has also been outstanding this season, and for me personally he is a real contender for our player of the year. He is the link between the defence and the attack and I'd expect him to hold the midfield, get stuck in and do the dirty work.
RF: Which players worry you in the Sunderland team?
F: Of course, we worry about Jermain Defoe. He's a proven goal scorer in Premier League and he will be the reason you eventually stay up.
We need to concentrate on our game and mark Defoe out of it. Our defence has not been up to standard recently and we're missing Van Dijk massively.
RF: How do you see Puel approaching the game and how do you think he'll line you up?
F: Puel needs to approach this game seriously - he needs to approach the game with a fearless attitude.
We've not had much to cheer about recently so a win away at Sunderland would certainly give the players confidence going into the EFL Cup final.
Puel needs to play his strongest team and that is likely to be Forster, Cedric, Yoshida, Stephens, Bertrand, Davis, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Tadic, Gabbiadini and Redmond.
Having said that, the team is likely to be no where near what I have suggested because Puel's selection is a guessing game every week.
RF: And to finish things off - give us a score prediction.
F: I expect it to be a close encounter - we're due a win on the road, and you will be rocking after last week, but I think 2-1 to Southampton.
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