Sunderland vs Al-Shabab
Kick off 1pm, Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence, Dubai
Live streaming available here (£7.50).
Amid the hand-over-mouth protests, major upsets and Ronaldo chucking himself to the ground to win a penalty in his fifth consecutive World Cup, it’s easy to forget Sunderland are back in action today as we play our controversial friendly game against Saudi Pro-League team Al-Shabab, who are currently topping their league.
Now, sidestepping the should we/shouldn’t we debate here (although if the question needs asked the answer is generally no, we shouldn’t) it’ll be a good opportunity for some of the lads to get minutes into their legs before we take on Millwall next weekend.
While I’m still completely against the World Cup taking place in November/December, it’s been very well-timed for us.
It cuts short the number of games our injured players – Ross Stewart and Dan Ballard most importantly – will miss, and gives them an opportunity to get back to fitness. It gives the likes of Ellis Simms and Niall Huggins more training time after understandably rusty returns to the first team, as well as giving younger players – Dan Neil, Anthony Patterson, Dennis Cirkin – and older members of the team – Danny Batth, Corry Evans and Alex Pritchard spring to mind here – a chance to rest and recharge.
It also gives the likes of Abdoullah Ba, Edourd Michut and Amad the chance to bond a bit more with their teammates.
Maybe most importantly, however, it gives Tony Mowbray some decent time with his players.
It’s easy to forget, but since Mowbray replaced The Snake, it’s been a very full fixture list – so Mowbray’s been dealing with the here and now, and has had little chance to implement any big changes.
Whether he needs to change much, of course, is up for debate. And he’s already changed some things, to be fair – he’s moved away from the back three he inherited, and the team’s playing a more attractive style of football than we saw previously.
Still, it’ll be interesting today to see if any changes in formation or tactics are noticeable.
Facing us today will be Al-Shabab from Riyadh, and their team’s mostly made up of Saudi players. Outside of that, noticeable names are the Argentine Ever Banega, who was linked with us at one point and played the majority of his football in Spain, and Grzegorz Krychowiak, a Polish midfielder who had a spell at West Brom a few years ago.
So, who’ll line up today? It’s impossible to call, but here’s what might happen...
Goalkeeper: Anthony Patterson
Alex Bass will probably get 45 minutes, but Patterson will likely start to keep his match sharpness.
Defenders: Lynden Gooch, Luke O’Nien, Aji Alese, Niall Huggins
At the back, Gooch could get a run out as he’s missed a few games through injury before the break. O’Nien missed the Birmingham game through suspension so could get a run out, while Aji Alese could be back from his iniury sustained against Blackburn and if so he’ll get some minutes. Niall Huggins will probably get another 45 at least after his return from a year out.
Centre midfield: Corry Evans, Abdullah Ba
Ba had a shocker against Cardiff but was left ridiculously exposed, and I think Mowbray will be keen to get him onto the field again, but alongside Corry Evans.
Attacking midfield: Amad, Patrick Roberts, Jack Clarke
Amad was outstanding against Birmingham, and has created a problem Mowbray needs to solve: how do you fit him and Roberts into the same team? He’ll surely try to solve that today. Jack Clarke should play from the left, particularly given Jewi is in World Cup action.
Striker: Ellis Simms
I think Simms will get the first 45-60 minutes today, with Ross Stewart hopefully making an appearance from the bench.