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Roker Roundtable: Do you think Phil Parkinson knows his best system and starting XI?

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With only one pre-season fixture remaining, we ask our panel if they think Phil Parkinson knows his favoured line-up and for their thoughts on who should should get the nod. Let us know your thoughts!

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Do you think Phil Parkinson knows his best system and starting XI?


Martin Wanless says...

When the final friendly of a normal preseason comes around, you’d expect the strongest XI to turn out. However, this is no normal preseason.

The fact that we have two cup games before our first league game changes things, and I’d be looking at both of those games as an extension of the preseason.

Whether Parkinson knows his best X1 or not is a different matter altogether of course. Given the formation used so far, it looks like he’ll go with the 3-4-3 from last season – and that’s something I’m supportive of. As well as knowing his formation, I suspect he knows nine or ten of the players who, barring injury, will start against Bristol Rovers.

Unless Messi signs, I suspect he’ll go with:

GK - Burge

CD - Willis

CD - Wright

CD - TBC (would be Flanagan but he will be on international duty)

RWB - O’Nien

CM - Power

CM - TBC (I’d go Scowen)

LWB - Hume

AM - Gooch

AM - Maguire

CF - Wyke

In that formation, and without the likes of Matthews and O’Brien particularly impressing so far, I think that is – at present – the strongest line up we have. Jack Diamond and Dan Neil could get an opportunity in the cup games to stake a claim, however, my concern with Diamond is we don’t play a system that naturally suits him; I just don’t see him as a wing-back.

Of course, we’ve got Will Grigg, and I think he will be given an opportunity over the next week or so to stake a claim. Let’s hope he does, because that line-up still lacks pace and goals. And while Grigg isn’t going to solve the former, he could possible solve the latter.

Either way, those two glaring deficiencies need to be rectified over the coming weeks.

Sunderland v Oxford United - Sky Bet League One Photo by Iam Burn/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Chris Camm says...

Two pre-season friendlies probably isn’t enough time for Parkinson to say for sure that he knows his best XI. He maybe has a favourite XI in mind, but it’s impossible to tell really as he has used these games to get everyone much needed game time, resulting in a lot of different combinations on display.

It’s fair to say though that a few performances have stood out, and I think he has decided to go again with three at the back. Last season this served us well, but only when we kept a certain Bailey Wright fit, otherwise we looked very shaky at the back.

Chris Maguire has been the best player on the pitch in both games so far and the academy products Embleton and Diamond have shown that they have what it takes to stake a claim for a place in the starting XI.

So I think Parkinson has a few names on the team sheet already but it wouldn’t surprise me if we see the line up change over the first few games of the season based on performances.

At the moment our best XI is a tough one to call based on lack of football we’ve seen the new boys play but if 3-4-3 is to be our formation again then this is my best guess:

GK - Burge

CB - Willis

CB - Wright

CB - Flanagan

RWB - O’Nien

CM - Power

CM - Scowen

LWB - Hume

LF - Maguire

ST - Grigg

RF - Embleton

It’s very similar to last season with the addition of Scowen, Embleton and Grigg and of course Burge in as goalkeeper. That’s my prediction based on what we know about Parky and his preferred shape, but what I would really love to see is a move to 4-3-3. With this formation we could utilise Power and Scowen in midfield and move Embleton into a more central role where I think he can do some real damage in this division.

This also has the potential to free up some space for Jack Diamond to come into the side as an out and out winger, and not the makeshift wing back we’ve seen him play in preseason. He’s a talented young man and I think he has all the attributes to be a thorn in the side of many League One outfits this season with his pace, strength and willingness to run at a defence.

The final friendly against Harrogate Town I think is another important opportunity to get match fitness and develop some good habits for the entire squad, so I would probably rotate the team again, but this time I’d like to see Parky give his preferred starting XI the chance to play at least 45 minutes together as the start of the season is only around the corner.

Sunderland v Carlisle : Pre-Season Friendly
Jack Diamond
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Rich Speight says...

I wouldn’t expect that Phil Parkinson has quite settled on a best eleven yet, and in his interview following the friendly against Carlisle United he explained that, with the condensed nature of the forthcoming season, he will have to rotate Sunderland’s line-up regularly.

So far, in two games, we have seen four different Sunderland line-ups play in one consistent 3-4-3 / 5-2-2-1 system, and I’d expect this experimentation with personnel to continue against Harrogate Town.

I would like O’Brien to be given the opportunity to spearhead the attack and see Elliot Embleton given a chance in the inside left position that Gooch currently occupies. Competition and cover will be really important during an intense campaign ahead, and over the course of the season I hope that the younger players in the squad will be given their opportunity to shine.

That said, and taking into account that we may well see further additions to the senior squad and more Under 23s recruited in the next few weeks, if I was to select a best starting XI from our current squad it would look, rather conservatively, much like last season’s team.

Despite Grigg and Wyke getting on the scoresheet in pre-season, I’d initially give Aiden O’Brien the central forward role he craves and tell him to fill his boots. I would also bring the more attacking-minded Josh Scowen into the centre of the park to be the link between the midfield and attack to complement Max Power’s covering role. Other than that, at least initially, I’d still prioritise continuity over change:

GK - Burge

LWB - Hume

CD - Flanagan

CD - Wright

CD - Willis

RWB - O’Nien

CM - Scowen

CM - Power

LF - Gooch

CF - O’Brien

RF - Maguire

Sunderland v Carlisle : Pre-Season Friendly
Josh Scowen
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Phil Butler says...

Although two preseason friendlies in isolation is no where near the sample-size needed for Phil Parkinson to work out his best starting eleven, since he’s actually lost very few players from the core of last season’s squad, it looks like the formation will stay the same.

I think the former Bolton gaffer will have a good idea of which eleven players will be starting the first league game of the season - I suspect the two early season cup games will be used as extra friendlies, so more rotation could take place in these.

I’d imagine Parkinson’s current preferred eleven is something like this:

GK - Burge

CB - Willis

CB - Wright

CB - Flanagan

RWB - O’Nien

CM - Scowen

CM - Power

LWB - Hume

AM - Gooch

AM - Maguire

ST - Grigg

Although Matthews has been brought in to compete with Burge, the latter deserves his chance to start in possession of the number 1 jersey. The back three of Willis, Wright and Flanagan remains from last season and Feeney and Taylor don’t add much in the way of competition to those three, although if Sunderland sign Xhemajli he may push Flanagan out of the team. O’Nien and Hume are the only wing-backs Sunderland possess, so their places are also pretty secure.

The midfield is where Parkinson looks likely to make a change, since Josh Scowen has looked like an upgrade on George Dobson (certainly in an attacking sense) with Dobson likely a better option behind Max Power shielding the defence, or to come in if Sunderland need an extra man in midfield.

Up front, Gooch and Maguire were Sunderland’s best players last season and it was no surprise to see the goals flow once Maguire came off the bench against Carlisle. Another decision for Parkinson to make us who starts up front. Grigg looked to have the edge after the Gateshead game, but Wyke bagged a brace against Carlisle.

I’d be inclined to give Grigg a chance, especially with the start of the season being behind closed doors mainly because he has shown for other clubs the ability for score goals in League One - Charlie Wyke has not.

With one preseason game left I think Parkinson will start his first choice team for an hour, before giving the subs, including players like Wyke, Matthews and Dobson the chance to force themselves into his plans for the early games of the season.

Sunderland v Carlisle : Pre-Season Friendly
Charlie Wyke scoring against Carlisle United
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Malcolm Dugdale says...

My view is slightly different - but to answer the questions first, no I don’t think Parky knows his first team yet; the team suggestions from my RR pals are all equally valid so don’t need repeating; and no, I don’t want to see the so-called best 11 play more minutes versus Harrogate.

To elaborate, we don’t need a first 11, I feel we need a first 20.

If we are going to seriously challenge for an automatic promotion spot this season, we need multiple systems and tactics. And we need 20 or so players who understand those systems and tactics but can also bring personal variations to them based on who they are, and who we are playing; all conducted by the manager in Parkinson.

I’d like to see the systems tested more, and the actual switching between tactics tried out into early season. I want every shirt to be fought for and as good a performance from the so-called backup in each position as the lad who just crossed the chalk in the other direction, totally knackered after a significant contribution to our success.

I do think Scowen, Embleton, Diamond, Grigg, Neal and others deserve a shot, but let’s stop banking on one eleven and one style of play! Let’s use the first 6 games or so (including early cup games) to get solid with our tactics and variations of players, then put our heads down and bloody well do this!!

Last season Portsmouth couldn’t buy a win for months, but they still did just about as well as us. This is a marathon not a sprint, so I want to see us get set for a long and congested season and get back into the Championship this time around.

In 2023, it will be 50 years since we as a second tier team beat the then best team in the league at Wembley to lift the FA Cup. If we aren’t back in at least the Championship by then, that will be a tragedy for everyone associated with football and our club. I’d take that happening a season or two ahead of that anniversary, thanks very much.

Let’s get sorted and do this, by whatever means it takes. But the Harrogate game is one of about 60 steps to tackle.

It is clearly one of the least significant ones we will face, but let’s build from here and do a proper job for the first time in many years.

Gateshead v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly
Elliot Embleton
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images