Sunderland travel to 14th place Watford this weekend in a match that could be critical for our increasingly slim chances of survival. Lose and we’re stuck at the bottom of the table, edging closer to an exit from the Premier League; win with other results playing in our favour and we could be off the bottom of the heap - a mere 4 points from safety. You might think I’m clutching at straws, but hope is all I have left.
Watford fans will also be looking to this weekend’s upcoming fixture with a keen sense of optimism... much like every other fan of every other club in the league. However, a win for them would be yet another step away from the seemingly distant possibility of relegation, after a rather tame season thus far.
This weekend’s game starts a series of very winnable games for David Moyes and the Lads, with 8 of our next 10 games against opposition languishing in the bottom half of the table. Games against Middlesbrough, Bournemouth, Hull and Swansea offer the prospect of a battle to safety, but the run simply has to start this weekend at Vicarage Lane.
Watford’s campaign thus far has been a rather uninspiring one to say the least. Mid-table obscurity might seen like a distant pipe-dream to many Sunderland fans, yet to the majority of Watford fans this season has been a failure. A comfortable 13th place finish last season - which saw The Hornets bag 45 points on their way to safety - was just the ticket after promotion; yet this season’s mediocre displays will have done little to enthuse the Vicarage Road faithful.
Quique Sánchez Flores’ bizarre exit from the club after such an impressive opening campaign last year, coupled with the rather unusual appointment of Walter Mazzarri, has done little to improve Watford’s standing. If results don’t pick up before the season’s end Watford could well be in for a difficult campaign next year.
One league win since the beginning of the new calendar year will also be a worrying statistic that leaves many Watford fans sitting uncomfortably in their seats; 6 points in that timeframe has been enough to stave off a relegation battle, yet part of that is certainly down to the sheer number of clubs performing poorly this season. Watford could be in for a shock this weekend if Sunderland play their cards right.
If we are to light the fuse of yet another great escape this simply has to be the weekend in which David Moyes and the players deliver the goods. Now is the time to abandon all caution and conservatism. We simply have to start creating chances and taking them. No goals in the last 4 games is a worrying sign, especially when you consider the fact that Jermain Defoe has been in lethal form all season - we simply haven’t been supplying him with enough opportunities to find the back of the net, and this has to change.
This weekend, David Moyes has to roll the dice and try something different... or rather try something familiar. This is one of the first weekend’s in a long time whereby we appear to have options ahead of the game, and personally, I think reverting back to the 3-5-1-1 that worked so well against both Liverpool and Crystal Palace earlier in the season is an option that should be explored once again. The defensive solidity provided with the potential of a back 5, coupled with the attacking threats of marauding wing-backs, deep lying midfielders and a number 10 looking to feed Jermain Defoe was a great balance that got the best out of a limited team sheet. With extra bodies available, Moyes should re-examine the system after all, what’s the worst that could happen?
As well as tinkering with the formation, I would also urge David Moyes to give Wahbi Khazri more than a token 10 minutes in which to shine. If the Tunisian isn’t afforded a starting role, then he must be given substantial game time in order to have a genuine impact on proceedings. Personally, I’d like to see a midfield 3 of Ndong, Khazri and Gibson/Rodwell given the opportunity to dictate proceedings; with a healthy balance of creativity, energy and maturity I could see Watford struggling to win that midfield battle.
Good news everybody, Lee Cattermole is back fighting fit! Well... according to him, anyway.
Watford may come too soon for the return of Lee Barry Cattermole, but his return from injury will add an enthusiasm, mettle and willingness to battle to the bitter end - something we’ve perhaps lacked in recent months. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Cattermole at the start of the season, however it’s clear to see that we’ve missed him dreadfully during this disappointing campaign.
Lamine Kone and John O'Shea have both been passed fit and should start, whilst Victor Anichebe is 'getting closer' to a return according to David Moyes.
Predicted XI: Pickford, Oviedo, O’Shea, Kone, Denayer, Jones, Gibson, Ndong, Larsson, Januzaj, Defoe.
Score Prediction: I don’t think Moyes will give Khazri a chance to impress, but thet being said I do think he will revert back to the 3-5-1-1 formation that enabled us to find some success. If we hit the ground running and take the game to Watford I can see us bagging a couple in North London; I’m going for a 2-0 win to Sunderland.