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Starting XI: Is this the side that Sunderland boss Jack Ross will pick tonight v Belenenses?

We’re expecting NINE CHANGES to the side that started on Thursday against Benfica B when Sunderland face Belenenses tonight - with Jack Ross hopefully opting for a back three and a forward line made up of exciting, unpredictable players.

Sunderland Pre-Season Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

GK: McLaughlin

Whilst Lee Burge has been one of the standout performers in both of our games in pre-season so far, now is the time for Sunderland’s number one Jon McLaughlin to resume his place in the side and gain some important match practice ahead of the new season.

The fact Burge played the full game on Thursday indicates that McLaughlin will get the chance to play his first ninety minutes since returning for pre-season training.

And, now he’s got some proper competition for his place, all eyes will be on the Scotland international to see if he can prove once again why he’s the man that Jack Ross should stick by between the sticks and play in the season opener against Oxford.

Charlton Athletic v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Play-off Final Photo by Leila Coker/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Defence: Willis, Loovens, Flanagan

Jack Ross said in the aftermath of the Benfica B draw that Jordan Willis would again start in this particular fixture, and his performance on the right hand side of the newly-formed back three was decent as he got his first pre-season minutes on the pitch.

The other two defenders are expected to be experienced duo Glenn Loovens and Tom Flanagan, who both came on in the second half on Thursday night - indicating that they’re likely to get a start in this particular fixture.

How Sunderland manage to play with this new system against good opposition will be intriguing, particularly since it seems likely that Ross will opt to go down this route when we face Oxford on the opening day of the season. Loovens and Flanagan aren’t guaranteed starters once the proper footy starts, so ensuring they have a good game tonight could be important for their chances of impressing Jack Ross and his backroom team.

Sunderland AFC

Midfield: O’Nien, McGeouch, Leadbitter, Hume

Whilst Lynden Gooch and Conor McLaughlin did an alright job as the wing backs in Sunderland’s newly-adopted system, it’s fair to suggest that the natural width and endeavour that Luke O’Nien and Denver Hume should hopefully provide us with tonight should lead to seeing a more open and attacking style of play from Jack Ross’s side.

In the centre should be Grant Leadbitter - who looked good against Benfica B - and Dylan McGeouch, who is keen to prove his worth after rejecting moves away from the club this summer in a bid to establish himself as a first-teamer under Jack Ross.

There’ll be a lot of focus in this game on our midfield and their ability to control possession when up against a decent top flight Portuguese side - something which should be a good indicator of where we’re at in our preparations.

Sunderland AFC

Attack: Kimpioka, Embleton, Watmore

Because both Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke started against Benfica it’ll be interesting to see whether Jack Ross opts to start one of them, or try something entirely different.

Ross often utilised Duncan Watmore as a centre forward last season and, in a game where we might not actually be on the front foot as often as we were in our previous two games, it seems likely that we’ll play a front line lead by the former England U21 international, flanked by the creativity of Elliot Embleton and the unpredictability of Benji Kimpioka.

Kimpioka and Embleton were perhaps two of the most impressive Sunderland players in the second half of the Benfica B game and will surely get the chance again in this one to impress. Kimpioka’s aggressive running combined with the pace of Watmore and the ingenuity of Embleton make for an interesting cocktail of attributes, one which I’m genuinely excited to see should Ross give the trio a chance to start the game together.

Embleton produced the finest pass of the game on Thursday when his through ball found the feet of Watmore, who lifted his shot over the onrushing goalkeeper but on to the crossbar. If we can see more of that from the academy graduate on this occasion then it’ll be interesting to see whether he starts again next Saturday again Herenveen, which will be a huge indicator of just how Jack Ross will play in our first game of our League One campaign.

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