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Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light

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Starting XI: What will the team be for Sunderland’s lunchtime trip to the Riverside?

With a couple of new faces to choose from, who will Michael Beale select for today’s game against Middlesbrough?

Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

I thought there were signs of improvement last week. We changed the shape of the midfield, which worked well, and we also saw the wide players getting the ball into the box more with greater regularity than we’ve seen for a while.

From last weekend, there have been a few comings and goings – Leo Hjelde and Romaine Mundle are likely to be involved somewhere along the line – but to be honest, I’d be surprised to see us change anything today,


Goalkeeper: Anthony Patterson

Same again in goal today – Patterson will have been disappointed to concede a scruffy own goal in the closing stages against Stoke, and will be hoping for a clean sheet today.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Defenders: Jenson Seelt, Luke O’Nien, Dan Ballard, Trai Hume

Jenson Seelt has done very well considering he’s out of position, but he clearly is a centre back and with Hume at left back we don’t have any balance. Leo Hjelde arrived at the club this week, and I think we’ll put him at left back sooner rather than later – but today could be a little too early. Given it’s a game in which we’re going to be under the cosh for spells, I think having Seelt in the defence could be useful, and we’ll probably sacrifice a bit of attacking intent in favour of defensive solidity.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Midfield: Pierre Ekwah, Dan Neil, Jobe Bellingham

We saw a very clear, but subtle, change in midfield shape last week, with Dan Neil anchoring the midfield, Ekwah advanced on his right and Bellingham likewise to his left. It worked really well – Jobe had his best game for a while, and Ekwah’s better playing in an advanced role than playing deeper. I expect us to line up in the same way today.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Attack: Abdoullah Ba, Mason Burstow, Jack Clarke

Ba was excellent last weekend, while Clarke had one of his best games of the season. It was noticeable that both were focused on getting the ball into the box early – another big change in approach. Patrick Roberts is back in training, but it’d be risky to put him straight back in after he only returned to training, and it’d be seriously unfair on Ba. Mason Burstow got the nod last week; he got a goal and played reasonably well, and hopefully, he’ll kick on now – we need him to, given our failure to bring in another striker.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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