Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Sunderland manager Jack Ross made it very clear earlier this week during an interview with SAFC.com that the spot in his team reserved for a goalkeeper is Jon McLaughlin’s to lose.
The Scotland international was handed the number one shirt on Thursday and has looked really assured during the games he has featured in over the pre-season period.
He’s big, composed, agile and capable - everything that Jason Steele and Lee Camp were not when they struggled to keep goal last season in the Championship.
Robbin Ruiter will be his deputy, with Max Stryjek as third choice - and we can only be content with the array of goalkeepers that we have to choose from.
Defence: Love, Ozturk, Loovens, Matthews
The back four that we ended the Middlesbrough friendly with should be the one that begins today’s game against Charlton - even despite the fact one or two ‘new’ faces have appeared since the last time the Lads had a kick-around.
Whilst Bryan Oviedo is fit and available for selection, he hasn’t played at all during pre-season and is a likely candidate to depart the club before the European transfer window closes at the end of August. Reece James isn’t quite ready to start having suffered an injury after the Darlington game, whilst Tom Flanagan also misses out and won’t be back for another couple of weeks.
Glenn Loovens and Alim Ozturk were handed the 4 and 5 shirts by Jack Ross when the squad numbers were released earlier in the week, and that should give us a clear indicator of who he sees as his first choice central defenders - at the start of the season, at least.
The pair looked comfortable together at Middlesbrough and give us some much-needed height in both boxes, which should hopefully come in handy if there are plenty of corners during today’s game.
Central Midfield: Lee Cattermole & Luke O’Nien
It’s a real shame that Dylan McGeouch isn’t fit enough to play in this game. He’s been our star player right throughout pre-season and the system which we are going to try and play under Ross relies heavily on his influence in the centre of the park.
That said, Lee Cattermole is experienced and, whilst his legs have gone, he *should* be able to get through a game at this level comfortably.
Pairing him with someone that can do most of his running for him is crucial, though. Luke O’Nien comes to Sunderland on the back of an impressive spell at Wycombe Wanderers and has all of the enthusiasm and work-rate needed in order to compliment Cattermole in the centre of the park.
16-year old Bali Mumba has featured in every single game in pre-season and will probably be disappointed to miss out, but his time will come - he should make the bench.
Attacking Midfield: Gooch, Honeyman, Maguire
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Sunderland’s ‘style’ during pre-season has been the fluidity of the attacking trio in behind the striker, and that’s why I think that these three men will get the chance to play today in front of an expectant and boisterous home crowd.
Lynden Gooch has been another stand-out in the friendlies that we’ve played and he really looks fit and raring to go. He’s waited long enough to get a chance here and I’ve got no doubt that he’ll be trying to prove a point when he gets the nod to start in today’s game.
George Honeyman was named as captain this week, so you can expect that he’ll play in every game when he’s fit. He certainly divides opinion amongst supporters but his ability to score goals and get into positions where he can influence proceedings are a massive tick in the box for him, and I expect that he’ll play in the hole between attack and midfield with the freedom to dictate play and get on the ball.
On the left will surely be Chris Maguire, a man who has really impressed since arriving on a free transfer from Bury right at the start of the summer.
His ability to influence and create in the final third makes him a valuable commodity, as does his mentality and ability to thrive in tough situations. You can guarantee that he won’t shrink if we go behind in the game, and that is important for where we are trying to get.
Striker: Josh Maja
Josh Maja has been involved in every game this pre-season up front, and whilst the arrival of Jerome Sinclair and Charlie Wyke make his situation a difficult one I have no doubt that Jack Ross will give the teenager his chance to prove his worth before the other two strikers in our arsenal have a chance to get themselves fit and firing.
Wyke won’t train for another three weeks at least, and whilst Sinclair got 45 minutes at Middlesbrough he’s still lacking in match sharpness and practice.
Maja scored twice at St Mirren and looked lethal as the foil for Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch, so expect to see him start the game and, hopefully, bag a goal or two to get his season off to the best possible start.