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Sunderland v Manchester United U21 - Papa John’s Trophy

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Starting XI: How will Sunderland line up at the Abbey Stadium this afternoon?

After a disappointing result in midweek, Sunderland will be looking to pick up all three points today at Cambridge. But who’ll be in the starting XI come kick off? We have a crack at picking the team!

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

In many respects, it was surprising that Lee Johnson didn’t go with three at the back on Tuesday night, and in hindsight perhaps he should have.

With news of Aiden McGeady’s long-term injury, Luke O’Nien’s shoulder falling out with practically every breath he takes, and a few other injuries to unnamed players, we could be forced to change formation to put a half-balanced side out this afternoon.

Lee Johnson said the injuries could give a chance for a few younger players, so here’s how we think we might line up today.

Goalkeeper: Thorben Hoffmann

Hoffmann’s a shoo-in in goal at present – however, I do think Patterson being back at the club is beneficial for him, as I actually see him as a more viable replacement for the Bayern loanee. His presence should keep Hoffmann on his toes.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Hoffman couldn’t do much about Shrewsbury’s goal on Tuesday
Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Defence: Tom Flanagan, Bailey Wright, Callum Doyle

With O’Nien seemingly succumbing to the shoulder injury he’s been carrying all season – and with Cirkin, Huggins and Hume all out long-term too – we’re way past even the ‘bare bones’ stage at full back.

If we wanted to stick to a back four, the only realistic option would be to put Tom Flanagan in at left back, where he has played before – however, I do think the more sensible solution is to go to a back three.

Flanagan, Wright and Doyle offer good natural balance and will provide defensive cover for the more attack-minded wing backs.

Another option is Fred Alves, however, it’s clear Johnson doesn’t fancy him at all, and is here simply to make up the numbers and will likely to return to West Ham in January.

Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League 1
Flanagan had been in fine form earlier in the season, and could come back into the team today
Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Midfield: Lynden Gooch, Carl Winchester, Dan Neil, Tyrese Dyce

I thought Lynden Gooch did well at fullback on Tuesday and will likely continue on the right side today – albeit in a more advanced wingback position. I actually think Gooch has the attributes of a good fullback/wingback, and it’ll be interesting to see how he progresses there over the coming weeks.

Winchester played his first game in the centre of midfield for a while on Tuesday, and added a touch of calmness that we’ve been lacking – I expect him to retain his place today. Alongside him will be Dan Neil – he was a shining light against Shrewsbury and we need to get him on the ball as much as possible.

The left hand side could be where we see a youngster come in – Tyrese Dyce offers a natural attacking threat from the left and could be given his league debut. The youngster joined from West Brom in the summer, and featured at fullback in pre-season. While he doesn’t look the strongest defensively, he does pose a threat going forwards, as we’ve seen in the Papa Johns Trophy.

Sunderland v Manchester United U21 - Papa John’s Trophy
Will Dyce come in for his league debut?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Attack: Nathan Broadhead, Ross Stewart, Alex Pritchard

The selection of Aiden O’Brien on Tuesday was downright bizarre, and he did absolutely nothing to warrant retaining his place today – and, with the change of formation it’s almost certain he’ll miss out today.

Nathan Broadhead didn’t have the best of games on Tuesday but showed some nice touches, and we need to keep him in the starting line up in my view.

Ross Stewart was strangely singled out for ‘constructive criticism’ by Lee Johnson after the Shrewsbury game – while the big Scot didn’t turn in the best of performances he’s been outstanding this season and is the least of our problems. Unless something’s going on behind the scenes, he’s a certainty to start up front.

Completing the trio, Alex Pritchard – he scored a great goal on Tuesday and he’ll surely be given the chance to build on that promising display. He finally produced some meaningful quality, and he could be crucial for us over the coming weeks.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Pritchard notched his first for the club on Tuesday
Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images


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