Goalkeeper: Lee Camp
I’m losing count of how many times I start this piece by wishing Max Stryjek could be given a chance. Here we are, bottom of the league with three awful senior goalkeepers - one injured, one suspended, one due to leave the club in less than two months’ time - and still there has been no sign of the young Pole.
Chris Coleman has said on many occasions things need to change because we can’t keep doing the same things as it often brings the same results.
So my question is, if not now, when? If not here, where? Of all the options available to us, Stryjek has to be the goalkeeper we look towards utilising in League One - why not see what he has to offer?
Defenders: Matthews, Kone, Clarke-Salter, Oviedo
At his pre-match press conference, the Sunderland manager confirmed that Marc Wilson won’t be available and John O’Shea hasn’t trained this week. He was due to feature in Friday’s session, but is he really worth throwing straight back in, particularly knowing he’s been injured and has far too many miles clocked up already this season?
I know the gaffer is talking of taking risks, but we could name a back four of players without the need for the Irishman in the side, despite the leadership he apparently brings us. I hope the gambles are made elsewhere and the aging legs of O’Shea are eased back in more gently.
I hope we can bring Jake Clarke-Salter back alongside Lamine Kone and ask Adam Matthews and Bryan Oviedo to focus on their defensive responsibilities, as opposed to predominantly providing the width. We have options in our squad that enable us to mix it up across the midfield, so perhaps opting for a more traditional-looking back four is the most sensible approach.
Midfielders: McNair, Ejaria, Honeyman
The name of Paddy McNair as a potential starter this weekend brings with it an assortment of options. Will the Irishman be another gamble to consider, or will he be eased back into contention from the bench, particularly given his horrendous injury record this year?
If he does play, will he be asked to play a box-to-box role - perhaps replacing Ovie Ejaria - or could he be an alternative in the side for the out-of-sorts Lee Cattermole?
If Coleman plays a flat back four, and resists the temptation to throw John O’Shea back in, we will undoubtedly need width from our midfield. Will that be wingers, perhaps in the form of Callum McManaman and former Preston favourite Aiden McGeady, or could it finally be the time to afford a start to January signing Kazenga LuaLua?
Or will the midfield remain a three and have two withdrawn forwards/attacking midfielders deployed to support a lone striker? In this system, LuaLua is a viable option. Perhaps with a three, one holding and two moving box-to-box, it allows Coleman to have a fluid midfield and offensive side.
The two supporting forwards would have to work hard at pressing the Preston midfield and offer width to keep fullbacks from advancing without pressure, but it’s something to consider.
Attackers: Asoro, LuaLua, Maja
Having a 4-3-3 formation would certainly bring support closer to a lone striker. Two players with a bit of pace - who can drop deep when needed but present options both wide and in support of a central striker - would lay down an attacking intent.
And we have those players in Joel Asoro and Kazenga LuaLua. Perhaps those two are more adept at the roles being asked than McManaman and McGeady, who seem to lose something when asked to play inside and not out wide.
As for the main striking role, Ashley Fletcher is struggling. As a sole striker, he offers little in way of holding up play or winning aerial battles. Whilst this formation may help with bodies around him, he’d still be asked to play the focal role. He clearly is lacking confidence and a game out of the firing line may not be a bad call to make.
Josh Maja has tremendous talent and operates far better with a partner by his side. With two quick forwards making runs off him, he has the intelligence to be effective in the lead role. He also seems a confident lad, and that’s what Coleman needs right now.
There is also the claim that starting these three shows faith in our own players and that can’t be a bad thing with one eye on next season.